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Trends in Molecular Medicine
Volume 27 (5), 2021, Pages 422-435

The Autoantigen Repertoire and the Microbial RNP World

Sandra G.Williams1,2, Sandra L. Wolin2

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, MD, USA.


Although autoimmunity and autoimmune disease (AID) are relatively common, the repertoire of autoantigens is paradoxically very limited. Highly enriched in this autoantigen repertoire are nucleic acids and their binding proteins, which together form large macromolecular structures. Most of these complexes are of ancient evolutionary origin, with homologs throughout multiple kingdoms of life. Why and if these nucleic acid–protein particles drive the development of autoimmunity remains unresolved. Recent advances in our understanding of the microbiome may provide clues about the origins of autoimmunity – and the particular puzzle of why the autoantigen repertoire is so particularly enriched in ribonucleoprotein particles (RNPs). We discuss the possibility that autoimmunity to some RNPs may arise from molecular mimicry to microbial orthologs.

Keywords: autoantigens, RNA–protein complexes, molecular mimicry, microbiome.

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