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(Last Modified: 21st October 2013)

About the Immune System

The vertebrate immune system (the one which has been used to inspire the vast majority of AIS to date) is composed of diverse sets of cells and molecules that work in collaboration with other systems, such as the neural and endocrine, to maintain a steady state of operation within the host: this is termed homeostasis. The role of the immune system is typically viewed as one of protection from infectious agents such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and other parasites. On the surface of these agents are antigens that allow the identification of the invading agents (pathogens) by the immune cells and molecules, which in turn provoke an immune response. There are two basic types of immunity, innate and adaptive. Innate immunity is not directed towards specific invaders into the body, but against any pathogens that enter the body. The innate immune system plays a vital role in the initiation and regulation of immune responses, including adaptive immune responses. Specialized cells of the innate immune system evolved so as to recognize and bind to common molecular patterns found only in micro-organisms. However, the innate immune system is by no means a complete solution to protecting the body. Adaptive, or acquired immunity, is directed against specific invaders, and cells are modified by exposure to such invaders. The adaptive immune system mainly consists of lymphocytes, which are white blood cells, more specifically B and T-cells. These cells aid in the process of recognizing and destroying specific substances. Any substance that is capable of generating such a response from the lymphocytes is called an antigen or immunogen. Antigens are not the invading microorganisms themselves; they are substances such as toxins or enzymes in the microorganisms that the immune system considers foreign. Adaptive immune responses are normally directed against the antigen that provoked them and are said to be antigen-specific. We have provided a list of good immunology books that you might find helpful.
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