Autoimmune diseases are characterized by an immune response against the body’s cells and tissues. Autoimmunity occurs when the body’s white blood cells start attacking other cells because it recognizes them as foreign substances. The disorder is believed to be a malfunction of the immune system, which normally protects a person from infection, but can also attack healthy tissue if not kept under control.
Some examples of autoimmune disorders include rheumatoid arthritis, Addison’s disease, lupus erythematosus, Grave’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. One research study found that there is a strong association between the development of feline uveitis (inflammation or irritation of the uvea) and this autoimmune disorder.
Autoimmune disorders occur when white blood cells, which normally protect the body from foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses, begin to attack normal cells in the same organism instead. This is because they recognize these cells as foreign or harmful and mount an immune response against them.
Over time, this leads to damage of many different organ systems and eventually organ failure. There are more than eighty types of autoimmune disorders recognized by medical science; some examples include rheumatoid arthritis, Addison’s disease lupus erythematosus, Graves’ disease, and multiple sclerosis.
The exact cause for this malfunction is unknown but it is believed that a combination of environmental forces such as toxins, chemicals, and pollutants along with genetic factors may trigger the attack. Some breeds of cats may be more susceptible to this disease than others, but it can affect any breed, gender, or age.
Autosomal dominant mutations in the feline leukocyte antigen (FeL) system are highly associated with autoimmune disorders in cats. This FeL system controls the expression of major histocompatibility complex molecules on the cell surface and most likely provides a critical function for immune regulation and self/non-self discrimination.
Cats affected by FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), which causes AIDS in felines, are also predisposed to developing an autoimmune disorder known as feline infectious peritonitis.