The nexus between atopic disease and autoimmunity: a review of the epidemiological and mechanistic literature


  • The views expressed in this report are the personal opinions of the authors and are not the official opinion of the US Food and Drug Administration or the Department of Health and Human Services.

R. L. Rabin, Office of Vaccines Regulation and Research, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, US Food and Drug Administration, 29 Lincoln Drive, Building 29, Room 203A, Bethesda, MD 20892-4555, USA.


There has been considerable interest in defining the relationship between the expression of allergic and autoimmune diseases in populations of patients. Are patients with autoimmune disease ‘protected’ from developing allergic (immunoglobulin E-mediated) diseases? Does the establishment of an atopic phenotype reduce the risk of the subsequent development of autoimmune diseases? Although there are clinical studies addressing this question, methodological problems, particularly in identification of atopic subjects, limits their usefulness. Moreover, an immune-based explanation of the observed epidemiological findings has relied on a paradigm that is currently undergoing increased scrutiny and modification to include newly defined effector cell subsets and the interaction between genetic and environmental factors, such as early endotoxin or mycobacterial exposure. To address this question, we reviewed a series of clinical reports that addressed coincidence or co-prevalence of atopy with four autoimmune diseases: psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and type I diabetes mellitus. We present a model whereby active T helper type 1 (Th1) inflammation may suppress the development of atopy, and atopy may suppress the severity but not necessarily the onset of autoimmunity, and then discuss our model in the context of mechanisms of adaptive immunity with particular reference to the Th1/Th2 paradigms. Because the ultimate goal is to ameliorate or cure these diseases, our discussion may help to predict or interpret unexpected consequences of novel therapeutic agents used to target autoimmune or atopic diseases.