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Keywords:

  • cancer;
  • chronic disease;
  • evolution;
  • immunopathology;
  • infection

Summary

Immunological aetiologies of disease are not generally well understood, but have been attributed to intrinsic immunological imbalances, infectious triggers or persistent infections. Evolutionary considerations lead to the formulation of three feasible categories of immunopathology for common diseases. One category of hypotheses presumes that the immune system is exposed to environmental conditions to which the individual is not well adapted. One hypothesis within this category, often referred to as the hygiene hypothesis, proposes that new more hygienic environmental conditions have generated compositions of symbionts that differ from those to which humans have been adapted. A second category of hypotheses proposes that infectious agents act as triggers of immunopathology by shifting the immune system into a self-destructive state. A third category proposes that infectious agents keep the immune in a self-destructive state by causing persistent infections. To evaluate disease causation rigorously and to determine the appropriate interventions, these three categories of causation need to considered for every disease that involves immunopathology. Assessment of the progress in understanding oncogenesis and other chronic diseases emphasizes the value of such integrated assessments.