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Autoimmune Diseases
Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 782045, 11 pages
Review Article

Autoimmunity and Asbestos Exposure

1Department of Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, 921 South 8th Avenue, Stop 8007, Pocatello, ID 83209, USA
2Center for Environmental Health Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA

Received 3 January 2014; Accepted 10 April 2014; Published 29 April 2014

Academic Editor: K. Michael Pollard

Copyright © 2014 Jean C. Pfau et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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.