Skip Navigation
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

The .gov means it’s official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.

Https

The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Internet Explorer is no longer a supported browser.

This website may not display properly with Internet Explorer. For the best experience, please use a more recent browser such as the latest versions of Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and/or Mozilla Firefox. Thank you.

Your Environment. Your Health.

Autoimmune Disease and Immunotoxicology

Program Description

A T cell is one type of immune cell responsible for protecting the body from disease and infection.

A T cell is one type of immune cell responsible for protecting the body from disease and infection.
(Photo courtesy of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

Our immune system is made of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend our body and protect against disease. There is increasing evidence that environmental exposures, like some pesticides or metals, may reduce the function and effectiveness of the immune system. In turn, this may increase susceptibility to infection, reduce response to vaccinations, and trigger potential autoimmune responses, in which the body wrongly attacks its own healthy tissue.

What NIEHS Is Doing

Immunotoxicology

NIEHS supports research in the field of immunotoxicology, which explores how toxic environmental exposures may alter immune system function. For example, NIEHS-funded researchers are studying:

  • The impact of early life exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) on vaccine response in children.
  • The impact of arsenic exposure during pregnancy on the mother’s vaccine response and susceptibility to infection.
  • The mechanisms by which the environment influences which immune genes are turned on or off, called epigenetic immune programming.
  • The possible link between breathing in silica and loss of immune cell tolerance causing the immune system to attack healthy tissues and organs.
  • How toxicant-triggered autoimmune disease can be prevented by modifying intake of dietary lipids.

NIEHS is also interested in examining the effect of childhood infections on the body’s response to environmental contaminants later in life, as well as possible synergistic effects between environmental factors and infectious agents.

Autoimmune Diseases

There is growing evidence for an environmental component in the development of autoimmunity and autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks normal, healthy tissues and organs in the body. Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and psoriasis are just a few examples of autoimmune diseases.

NIEHS-funded researchers are examining the role environmental exposures play in the development and progression of autoimmune diseases, and the biological mechanisms involved. For example, NIEHS-supported scientists are studying the relationship between autoimmune disease and exposure to silica and mercury, as well as the role of the role of trichlolorethylene (TCE) exposure in the development of autoimmune liver disease.

For additional information on what NIEHS grantees are doing, visit our Who We Fund tool.

Program Leads

Mike Humble, Ph.D.
Mike Humble, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator, Basic Science
Tel 984-287-3272
humble@niehs.nih.gov
P.O. Box 12233
Mail Drop K3-15
Durham, N.C. 27709
Bonnie R. Joubert, Ph.D.
Bonnie R. Joubert, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator, Epidemiology
Tel 984-287-3276
bonnie.joubert@nih.gov
P.O. Box 12233
Mail Drop K3-12
Durham, N.C. 27709
Back
to Top