Autoimmunity refers to a condition in the body in which the immune system attacks the body, rather than a foreign invader. While the immune system is crucial to the defense of the body, it can be horrifically damaging to the cells of the body when it focuses on the self, rather than foreign. There are a number of serious diseases which are the result of an autoimmune response. These include Addison ’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Autoimmune hypophysitis. All of these conditions result when the immune system attack the endocrine system, the body system associated with hormones. This paper will discuss these three condition and how the immune system’s dysfunction causes them.
Addison’s disease is a condition where the adrenal glands of the body fail to produce enough steroids. The adrenal glands are small endocrine glands found on top of the kidneys; as endocrine glands, they produce hormones that are excreted into the blood stream. Endocrine hormones work at a site distant from where they are produced. Steroids are a crucial hormone in the body. Addison’s disease is a rare condition that impacts the ability of the adrenal glands to produce sufficient hormones. Since the condition develops slowly, it may take months to years before an individual develops signs and symptoms of the condition. By this point, the destruction of the adrenal glands is significant. It results when 90% or more of the body’s steroid function has been lost.
The adrenal cortex is destroyed when an immune reaction occurs against an enzyme in the body. This enzyme, 21-hydroxylase, is required for the biosynthesis of glucocorticoids and mineralcorticoids. The enzyme is one of the many cytochrome P450 proteins that are required for the metabolism of multiple chemicals in the human body. For the condition to occur, the body must develop serum anti-antibodies against 21-hydroxylase. The anti-bodies then attack the enzyme, resulting in several changes in the hormone levels of the body. The corticotrophin levels increase, while the levels of glucocorticoid decrease. A crisis occurs when the levels are dangerously high or love (Mitchell & Pearce, 2012, pp. 306-308).
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis refers to an inflammation of the thyroid gland associated with an autoimmune condition. The condition is also referred to as Hashimoto’s disease. As a result of the attack on the thyroid gland, the thyroid gland fails to produce enough hormones; the result is hypothyroidism. In this condition, antibodies form against thyroglobulin. Thyroglobulin is a protein produced by the cells of the thyroid gland, strictly for its use. This protein is critical to maintain the proper functioning of the gland. When the thyroglobulin is no longer available for use by the thyroid, the thyroid gland cannot produce the necessary hormones. The exact etiology of the autoimmune response is not known. However, it is known that CD4, or T-helper cells are activated by the immune system. However, the T-helper cells that are activated are specific only to the thyroid gland. Since this is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in humans, research continues into the cause of the condition (Paparodis, Imam, Todorova-Koteva, Staii, et al, 2014, pp. 1107-1109).
Autoimmune hypophysitis refers to an inflammation of the pituitary gland that is caused by an immune response. The pituitary gland is the “master gland” and as such, critical for the endocrine system. In this condition, autoantibodies develop against the pituitary gland; many of these individuals also have autoantibodies that work against the thyroid gland. While the exact etiology for this condition is also under investigation, it has been postulated that alpha-enolase is the autoantigen associated with it. Alpha-enolase is a glycolytic enzyme. This enzyme has a co-expression in the placenta; as a result, there is a high correlation between pregnancy and the development of this condition (Falorni, Minarelli, Bartoloni, Alunno, et al, 2014, p. 412).
Autoimmune conditions occur when the body’s immune system attacks itself. Many of these conditions affect the endocrine system, or the system associated with hormones. Unfortunately, the exact etiology of the diseases are often still under investigation. However, autoantibodies have been found that indicate they are autoimmune diseases.