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/ Immunology 5e:

Overview of the
Immune System
chapter 1

T       

defense system that has evolved to protect animals
from invading pathogenic microorganisms and
cancer. It is able to generate an enormous variety of cells and
molecules capable of specifically recognizing and eliminat-
ing an apparently limitless variety of foreign invaders. These
cells and molecules act together in a dynamic network whose
complexity rivals that of the nervous system.
Functionally, an immune response can be divided into
Numerous T Lymphocytes Interacting with a Single
two related activities—recognition and response. Immune Macrophage
recognition is remarkable for its specificity. The immune
system is able to recognize subtle chemical differences that
distinguish one foreign pathogen from another. Further- ■ Historical Perspective
more, the system is able to discriminate between foreign
■ Innate Immunity
molecules and the body’s own cells and proteins. Once a for-
eign organism has been recognized, the immune system ■ Adaptive Immunity
recruits a variety of cells and molecules to mount an appro-
■ Comparative Immunity
priate response, called an effector response, to eliminate or
neutralize the organism. In this way the system is able to ■ Immune Dysfunction and Its Consequences
convert the initial recognition event into a variety of effector
responses, each uniquely suited for eliminating a particular
type of pathogen. Later exposure to the same foreign organ-
ism induces a memory response, characterized by a more
rapid and heightened immune reaction that serves to elimi- Like the later chapters covering basic topics in immu-
nate the pathogen and prevent disease. nology, this one includes a section called “Clinical Focus”
This chapter introduces the study of immunology from that describes human disease and its relation to immunity.
an historical perspective and presents a broad overview of These sections investigate the causes, consequences, or treat-
the cells and molecules that compose the immune system, ments of diseases rooted in impaired or hyperactive immune
along with the mechanisms they use to protect the body function.
against foreign invaders. Evidence for the presence of very
simple immune systems in certain invertebrate organisms
then gives an evolutionary perspective on the mammalian
immune system, which is the major subject of this book. El-
Historical Perspective
ements of the primitive immune system persist in verte- The discipline of immunology grew out of the observation
brates as innate immunity along with a more highly evolved that individuals who had recovered from certain infectious
system of specific responses termed adaptive immunity. diseases were thereafter protected from the disease. The
These two systems work in concert to provide a high degree Latin term immunis, meaning “exempt,” is the source of the
of protection for vertebrate species. Finally, in some circum- English word immunity, meaning the state of protection
stances, the immune system fails to act as protector because from infectious disease.
of some deficiency in its components; at other times, it be- Perhaps the earliest written reference to the phenomenon
comes an aggressor and turns its awesome powers against its of immunity can be traced back to Thucydides, the great his-
own host. In this introductory chapter, our description of torian of the Peloponnesian War. In describing a plague in
immunity is simplified to reveal the essential structures and Athens, he wrote in 430 BC that only those who had recov-
function of the immune system. Substantive discussions, ex- ered from the plague could nurse the sick because they
perimental approaches, and in-depth definitions are left to would not contract the disease a second time. Although early
the chapters that follow. societies recognized the phenomenon of immunity, almost