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Immunol Rev. 2004 Apr;198:10-24.

Invertebrate immune systems--not homogeneous, not simple, not well understood.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA. esloker@unm.edu


The approximate 30 extant invertebrate phyla have diversified along separate evolutionary trajectories for hundreds of millions of years. Although recent work understandably has emphasized the commonalities of innate defenses, there is also ample evidence, as from completed genome studies, to suggest that even members of the same invertebrate order have taken significantly different approaches to internal defense. These data suggest that novel immune capabilities will be found among the different phyla. Many invertebrates have intimate associations with symbionts that may play more of a role in internal defense than generally appreciated. Some invertebrates that are either long lived or have colonial body plans may diversify components of their defense systems via somatic mutation. Somatic diversification following pathogen exposure, as seen in plants, has been investigated little in invertebrates. Recent molecular studies of sponges, cnidarians, shrimp, mollusks, sea urchins, tunicates, and lancelets have found surprisingly diversified immune molecules, and a model is presented that supports the adaptive value of diversified non-self recognition molecules in invertebrates. Interactions between invertebrates and viruses also remain poorly understood. As we are in the midst of alarming losses of coral reefs, increased pathogen challenge to invertebrate aquaculture, and rampant invertebrate-transmitted parasites of humans and domestic animals, we need a better understanding of invertebrate immunology.

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