The lack of complete concordance of autoimmune disease in identical twins suggests that nongenetic factors play a major role in determining disease susceptibility. In this review, we consider how epigenetic mechanisms could affect the immune system and effector mechanisms in autoimmunity and/or the target organ of autoimmunity and thus affect the development of autoimmune diseases. We also consider the types of stimuli that lead to epigenetic modifications and how these relate to the epidemiology of autoimmune diseases and the biological pathways operative in different autoimmune diseases. Increasing our knowledge of these epigenetic mechanisms and processes will increase the prospects for controlling or preventing autoimmune diseases in the future through the use of drugs that target the epigenetic pathways.
Keywords: twins, concordance, autoimmune disease, nongenetic factors, immune system, epigenetic modifications