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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Oct 7;273(1600):2571-4.

Self-harm caused by an insect's innate immunity.

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  • 1Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK.


It has been a long-held assumption that the innate immune system of insects causes self-harm when used to combat an immune insult. We show empirically that this assumption is correct. Invertebrate innate immunity relies heavily on effector systems which, on activation, produce cytotoxins that kill pathogens. Reliance on these robust, fast-acting, generic killing mechanisms ensures a potent and rapid response to pathogen invasion, but has the potential disadvantage of causing self-damage. We show that the innate immune response against an immune insult produces measurable phenotypic and functional damage to self-tissue in the beetle Tenebrio molitor. This type of self-harm (autoreactivity) and the life-history implications that arise from it are important to understand evolutionary phenomena such as the dynamics between hosts and parasites as well as the nature of immune system costs.

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