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Springer Semin Immunopathol. 2005 Jan;26(3):231-46. Epub 2004 Oct 14.

Natural endogenous adjuvants.

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Department of Pathology, UMass Medical School, Worcester, MA 01655, USA.


It has long been known that immunization with a protein by itself is often not sufficient to stimulate immunity, and may instead induce tolerance. To elicit productive immune responses exogenous adjuvants need to be co-injected with an antigen. One important class of adjuvants are the unique (non-mammalian) components of microbes. It is now believed that an adjuvant is required for immunity because the immune system evolved to respond to dangerous situations such as infections, and the presence of an adjuvant is the mechanism used to identify these situations. However, there are some circumstances where immune responses are generated in the apparent absence of any microbial or other exogenous adjuvant. Such situations include immune responses to transplants, tumors, autoimmunity and possibly certain viral infections. It has been postulated that in these situations the danger signals come from endogenous adjuvants that are released from dying cells. There is abundant evidence that dead cells are immunogenic, and recently it has been shown that cells contain endogenous adjuvant activities that are released after death. Some actual and putative endogenous adjuvants, such as monosodium urate and heat shock proteins, have been identified and there are others whose identities are not yet known. The potential biological roles of this class of adjuvants are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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