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Int Immunol. 2002 May;14(5):525-32.

Memorizing innate instructions requires a sufficiently specific adaptive immune system.

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Lymphocyte Population Biology, Institut Pasteur, 25-28 Rue du Dr Roux, 75015 Paris, France.


During its primary encounter with a pathogen, the immune system has to decide which type of immune response is most appropriate. Based on signals from the innate immune system and the immunological context in which the pathogen is presented, responding lymphocytes will adopt a particular phenotype, e.g. secrete a particular profile of cytokines. Once stimulated, lymphocytes store the appropriate type of response by differentiating from a naive to a memory phenotype. This allows the appropriate type of immune reaction to be regenerated upon re-stimulation of those memory clones. We developed a computer simulation model in which cross-reacting effector/memory clones contribute to the immunological context of pathogens. If a pathogen is recognized by both naive clones and pre-existing effector/memory clones, the naive lymphocytes adopt the effector mechanism of the memory clone. The adaptive immune system thereby stores immunological decisions and somatically learns to induce the right type of immune response to pathogens sharing epitopes. The influence of effector/memory lymphocytes may be detrimental when they cross-react to new pathogens that require a different kind of immune response. Here, we show that the immune system needs to be sufficiently specific to avoid such mistakes and to profit from the information that is stored in effector/memory lymphocytes. Repertoire diversity is required to reconcile this specificity with reactivity against many pathogens.

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