Why is diabetes referred to as an autoimmune disease?
This is rather a large question, so if what I say here seems inadequate you might think of going to the nearest medical library and asking for a text on immunology and reading the chapter on autoimmunity.
Very briefly and simplistically, what happens in autoimmunity is this. Certain white blood cells called lymphocytes are produced in the bone marrow; but then migrate to the thymus, which is a gland that lies behind the sternum. There they are 'taught' to differentiate self from non-self. Normally, in a rather complicated series of reactions, these cells will only be triggered to multiply when they see a foreign protein (bacteria, virus, transplanted cell or a vaccine protein) shown to them by a macrophage cell or antigen-presenting cell.
Sometimes the process goes wrong though and these lymphocytes will be triggered to slowly destroy normal tissues. This process is called autoimmunity and occurs not only in Type 1A diabetes, but in such other disorders as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, pernicious anemia, myasthenia gravis and so on.
Original posting 9 Aug 1998
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