Immunologic Research

, Volume 66, Issue 6, pp 790–799 | Cite as

Review of the “X chromosome-nucleolus nexus” hypothesis of autoimmune diseases with an update explaining disruption of the nucleolus

  • Wesley H. BrooksEmail author


The “X chromosome-nucleolus nexus” hypothesis provides a comprehensive explanation of how autoantibodies can develop following cellular stress. The hypothesis connects autoimmune diseases with the impact of environmental factors, such as viruses, through epigenetic disruption. The inactive X chromosome, a major epigenetic structure in the female cell’s nucleus, is a key component of the hypothesis. The inactive X is vulnerable to disruption due to the following: (1) its heavy requirements for methylation to suppress gene expression, (2) its peripheral location at the nuclear envelope, (3) its late replication timing, and (4) its frequently observed close association with the nucleolus. The dynamic nucleolus can expand dramatically in response to cellular stress and this could disrupt the neighboring inactive X, particularly during replication, leading to expression from previously suppressed chromatin. Especially vulnerable at the surface of the inactive X chromosome would be genes and elements from Xp22 to the terminus of the short arm of the X. Expression of these genes and elements could interfere with nucleolar integrity, nucleolar efficiency, and future nucleolar stress response, and even lead to fragmentation of the nucleolus. Ribonucleoprotein complexes assembled in the nucleolus could be left in incomplete states and inappropriate conformations, and/or contain viral components when the nucleolus is disrupted and these abnormal complexes could initiate an autoimmune response when exposed to the immune system. Epitope spreading could then lead to an autoimmune reaction to the more abundant normal complexes. Many autoantigens reported in lupus and other autoimmune diseases are, at least transiently, nucleolar components.


Barr body X chromosome Nucleolus Alu Polyamines Lupus 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there are no conflicts of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ChemistryUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA

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