Environ Health Perspect 2003 Apr;111(4):518-23
Staples JA, Ponsonby AL, Lim LL, McMichael AJ.
National Center for Epidemiology and Population Health, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.
The apparent immune-suppressive effect of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) has suggested that this environmental exposure may influence the development of immune-related disorders.
Self-reported prevalence rates of type 1 diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), eczema/dermatitis, and asthma, from the 1995 Australian National Health Survey, were therefore examined by latitude and ambient level of UVR.
A positive association of type 1 diabetes mellitus prevalence was found with both increasing southern latitude of residence ((italic)r(/italic) = 0.77; (italic)p(/italic) = 0.026) and decreasing regional annual ambient UVR ((italic)r(/italic) = -0.80; (italic)p(/italic) = 0.018); a 3-fold increase in prevalence from the northernmost region to the southernmost region was evident.
In contrast, asthma correlated negatively with latitude ((italic)r(/italic) = -0.72; (italic)p(/italic) = 0.046), although the change in asthma prevalence from the north to the south of Australia was only 0.7-fold.
For both RA and eczema/dermatitis, there were no statistically significant associations between latitude/UVR and disease prevalence.
These ecologic data provide some support for a previously proposed beneficial effect of UVR on T-helper 1-mediated autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes.
The inverse association of type 1 diabetes prevalence with UVR is consistent with that previously reported for another autoimmune disease, multiple sclerosis, in Australia, and also with type 1 diabetes latitudinal gradients in the Northern Hemisphere.
The finding also accords with photoimmunologic evidence of UVR-induced immunosuppression and may suggest a beneficial effect of UVR in reducing the incidence of such autoimmune conditions.
In light of this study, analytic epidemiologic studies investigating risk of immune disorders in relation to personal UVR exposure in humans are required.