NIH News Release
National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences

Tuesday, September 28, 1999
NIEHS Press Contact: John Peterson
(919) 541-7860

Reports from Special Environmental Health Issue Explore Links to Autoimmune Diseases
Diabetes, Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis and Arthritis

A study by scientists at Johns Hopkins University concludes that at least ten million Americans are affected by one of 80 known autoimmune diseases conditions such as type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes, lupus, multiple sclerosis and even Takayasu's arteritis, which attacks the aorta and its branches. These conditions result when a person's immune system mounts an attack against one's own tissues.

Mild forms of the autoimmune response probably occur naturally in most people. But, for people with a predisposition to autoimmunity, environmental factors, such as toxic chemicals, drugs, bacteria or viruses, may trigger a full-fledged response.

The potential causes of this mysterious family of diseases are described in the October supplement to Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The supplement, titled Linking Environmental Agents and Autoimmune Diseases, contains updated reports from a workshop which brought more than 100 scientists to the NIEHS campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, to review what is known about the causes and underlying mechanisms involved.

Highlights from the supplement, which is available to reporters in both electronic and hard copy format:

To date, researchers have identified a host of environmental factors thought to be possible triggers for various autoimmune disorders. For example, exposure to certain dietary factors seems to contribute to type 1 diabetes. Other possible links include ultraviolet radiation and multiple sclerosis, ionizing radiation and systemic lupus erythematosus, stress and rheumatoid arthritis, and exposure to heavy metals and autoimmune glomerulonephritis.

Reporters and editors may obtain free electronic access to the full-length version of these articles from now until Oct. 14, 1999 by logging onto the Environmental Health Information Service at and using the following username and password:
username: auto password: media