Perception of self: distinguishing autoimmunity from autoinflammation


Rheumatic diseases can be divided in two groups, autoinflammatory and autoimmune disorders. The clinical presentation of both types of diseases overlap, but the pathological pathways underlying rheumatic autoinflammation and autoimmunity are distinct and are the subject of ongoing research. There are a number of ways in which these groups of diseases differ in terms of disease mechanisms and therapeutic responses. First, autoinflammatory diseases are driven by endogenous danger signals, metabolic mediators and cytokines, whereas autoimmunity involves the activation of T and B cells, the latter requiring V-(D)-J recombination of receptor-chain gene segments for maturation. Second, the efficacy of biologic agents directed against proinflammatory cytokines (for example IL-1β and TNF) also highlights differences between autoinflammatory and autoimmune processes. Finally, whereas autoinflammatory diseases are mostly driven by inflammasome-induced IL-1β and IL-18 production, autoimmune diseases are associated with type I interferon (IFN) signatures in blood. In this Review, we provide an overview of the monocyte intracellular pathways that drive autoinflammation and autoimmunity. We convey recent findings on how the type I IFN pathway can modulate IL-1β signalling (and vice versa), and discuss why IL-1β-mediated autoinflammatory diseases do not perpetuate into autoimmunity. The origins of intracellular autoantigens in autoimmune disorders are also discussed. Finally, we suggest how new mechanistic knowledge of autoinflammatory and autoimmune diseases might help improve treatment strategies to benefit patient care.