Horror autotoxicus: The story of autoimmunity

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The NEI Connection

Autoimmunity has become a well-known concept in our modern world, although it was not widely accepted in mainstream medicine until the 1950s and 1960s.   Many of us have a general idea what the term means or can list a number of autoimmune conditions.

Diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), systemic lupus erythmatosis (SLE), type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Crohn’s disease and celiac disease are now widely recognized.  Over 23.5 million Americans have an autoimmune disease, and autoimmune diseases have been identified in virtually every organ system.

What is autoimmunity?  It literally means “immunity against self” or an immune system mistakenly attacking healthy tissue.  The German immunologist and Nobel Laureate, Paul Ehrlich (1845-1915), coined the term horror autotoxicus “the horror of self-toxicity” to describe the body’s aversion to immunological self-destruction.  Our bodies are equipped with powerful defenses against invading microorganisms like viruses and bacteria.   We have…

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