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Autoimmunity and asbestos exposure.

Despite a body of evidence supporting an association between asbestos exposure and autoantibodies indicative of systemic autoimmunity, such as antinuclear antibodies (ANA), a strong epidemiological link has never been made to specific autoimmune diseases. This is in contrast with another silicate dust, crystalline silica, for which there is considerable evidence linking exposure to diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Instead, the asbestos literature is heavily focused on cancer, including mesothelioma and pulmonary carcinoma. Possible contributing factors to the absence of a stronger epidemiological association between asbestos and autoimmune disease include (a) a lack of statistical power due to relatively small or diffuse exposure cohorts, (b) exposure misclassification, (c) latency of clinical disease, (d) mild or subclinical entities that remain undetected or masked by other pathologies, or (e) effects that are specific to certain fiber types, so that analyses on mixed exposures do not reach statistical significance. This review summarizes epidemiological, animal model, and in vitro data related to asbestos exposures and autoimmunity. These combined data help build toward a better understanding of the fiber-associated factors contributing to immune dysfunction that may raise the risk of autoimmunity and the possible contribution to asbestos-related pulmonary disease.

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