The significance of immune responses to certain heat shock proteins (HSPs) that develop in virtually all inflammatory diseases is only now becoming clear. In experimental models, HSPs prevent or arrest inflammatory damage, and initial clinical trials in chronic inflammatory disease have shown HSP peptides to promote production of anti-inflammatory cytokines—indicating immunoregulatory potential. HSPs are ubiquitous self-antigens that are highly expressed in inflamed tissues. The prokaryotic homologous proteins, present in every bacterial species, are dominantly immunogenic. This is striking, especially as these proteins have large areas of sequence homologies with the host (mammalian) counterparts. In several experimental models of autoimmune diseases, immunisation with bacterial HSPs inhibited disease development, as did oral/nasal administration. Based on the experimental evidence so far, it is tempting to speculate that: firstly, exposure to homologues of these self-antigens, as present in, for instance, the bacterial intestinal flora, has a decisive impact on the regulation of self-tolerance at the level of T cells; and secondly, such proteins or their derivative peptides may have a role in an antigen specific immunotherapy approach involving modulation of relevant T cells, without the immediate necessity of defining disease specific autoantigens. Recent findings in experimental asthma and atherosclerosis have indicated that the field of application of such immunotherapy can be broader than just autoimmunity.
- HSP, heat shock protein
- IL, interleukin
- PG, proteoglycan
- PGIA, proteoglycan induced arthritis
- TLR, toll-like receptor
- heat shock proteins
- T cells
- chronic inflammation
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Competing interests: none declared
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