Molecular mimicry and auto-immunity
The term “molecular mimicry” was coined by R. Damian in 1964, who was first to suggest that antigenic determinants of micro-organisms may resemble antigenic determinants of their host. Damian suggested that this similarity served as a defense mechanism of a microorganism from the host’s immune system and prevented the development of immune response to the micro-organism, thereby protecting it from host defense. Years later, the term “molecular mimicry” was attributed a different meaning—namely, antigenic determinants of microorganisms might elicit an auto-immune response that harms the host. The concept of molecular mimicry is based on a structural similarity between a pathogen or metabolite and self-structures. The similarity could be expressed as shared amino acid sequences (linear or mimotope) or similar conformational structure between a pathogen and self-antigen.
“Molecular mimicry” has become a very popular explanation for the frequent association of infection with auto-immune disease.