Why anyone develops an autoimmune disease is one of the central puzzles in immunology. Scientists recognize that genetic and environmental factors play a role, "but how these two interact to cause autoimmunity is still a mystery," says Yaron Tomer, a professor of medicine at the University of Cincinnati.

The mystery unfolds with this observation: Even in autoimmune diseases considered to have a strong genetic component, the concordance rate in identical twins is often relatively low. For example, the concordance for monozygotic twins with multiple sclerosis is around 30%, for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) between 12% and 30%, and for systemic lupus...

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