RNA Viruses and Autoimmunity: A Short Overview

  • Massimo GalliEmail author
  • Giorgio Bozzi
  • Andrea Giacomelli


RNA viruses are a large group of widespread and extremely prevalent pathogens capable of eliciting a broad spectrum of innate and adaptive immune responses. Additionally, persistent infection by some RNA viruses can induce or enhance accelerated immune activation. The hypothesis that molecular mimicry is implicated in autoimmunity was first proposed in 1987. Since then, a growing evidence from medical literature of a possible role for viral infection in autoimmunity has risen. In particular, enteroviruses have been investigated as possible causes of type 1 diabetes. Some hypotheses have put forward the possible implication of hepatitis A virus in autoimmune phenomena. The two most prevalent RNA viruses causing chronic infection, hepatitis C virus and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), are both associated with autoimmune disorders. HCV can trigger and sustain a clonal B-cell expansion which causes a wide spectrum of autoimmune/lymphoproliferative disorders, through a multistep process. Similarly, HIV is responsible for derangement of the immune regulation and is associated with some autoimmune disorders, such as autoimmune thrombocytopenia. Nevertheless, a formal scientific demonstration of an etiological relationship between any RNA virus and a major autoimmune disease has not yet been obtained.


Hepatitis A virus Hepatitis C virus Enterovirus Human immunodeficiency virus Cryoglobulinemia 



Autoimmune hemolytic anemia


Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome


Antinuclear antibody


Anti-liver/kidney microsomal antibodies


Coxsackie A viruses


Combined antiretroviral therapy


Coxsackie B viruses

CD4+ T cells

Helper T lymphocytes


Cryoglobulinemic vasculitis


Dilated cardiomyopathy




Glutamic acid decarboxylase autoantigen


Membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis


Hepatitis A virus


Hepatitis C virus


Human immunodeficiency virus type 1


Immune restoration inflammatory syndrome




Psoriatic arthritis


Rheumatoid arthritis


Ribonucleic acid


Systemic lupus erythematosus


Type 1 diabetes


T-cell receptor


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Massimo Galli
    • 1
    Email author
  • Giorgio Bozzi
    • 1
  • Andrea Giacomelli
    • 1
  1. 1.Infectious Diseases UnitUniversity of Milan, L. Sacco HospitalMilanItaly

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