Mechanisms of heavy metal-induced autoimmunity

Chemical exposure can trigger or accelerate the development of autoimmune manifestations. Although heavy metals are elementary chemical structures, they can have profound and complex effects on the immune system. In genetically susceptible mice or rats, administration of subtoxic doses of mercury induces both the production of highly specific autoantibodies and a polyclonal activation of the immune system. We review in this article some of the mechanisms by which heavy metal exposure can lead to autoimmunity.