Abstract: During host immune response, an initial and sufficient activation is required to avoid infection and cancer, yet an excessive activation bears the risk of autoimmune reactivity and disease development. This fastidious balance of the immune system is regulated by co-stimulatory and co-inhibitory molecules, also known as immune checkpoints. Both excessive co-stimulation and insufficient co-inhibition can induce the activation and proliferation of autoreactive cells that may lead to the development of autoimmune diseases. During the last decade, a growing number of new immune checkpoint receptors and ligands have been discovered, providing an attractive approach to investigate their implication in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases and their potential role as targets for effective therapeutic interventions. In this review, we focus on the roles and underlying mechanisms of co-stimulatory and co-inhibitory receptors and other molecules that function as immune checkpoints in autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, type I diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease. We also summarize previous and current clinical trials targeting these checkpoint pathways in autoimmune diseases and discuss further therapeutic implications and possible risks and challenges.
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