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Adv Immunol. 2005;87:209-36.

New insights into alternative mechanisms of immune receptor diversification.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of South Florida College of Medicine, USF/ACH Children's Research Institute, St. Petersburg, Florida 33701, USA.


The clonal commitment, selection, and expansion of B and T lymphocytes expressing diversified receptors provide the underlying basis for the jawed vertebrates adaptive immune response. At the core of this process is the rearrangement and somatic modification of segmental genetic elements that encode the constituent components of immunoglobulins and T-cell antigen receptors. No evidence has been found for a similar mechanism outside of jawed vertebrates; however, invertebrates and jawless vertebrates are subjected to continuous exposure to pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and parasites. The invertebrates and jawless vertebrates as well as jawed vertebrates all encode a variety of mediators of innate immunity. Several reports of extensive germline diversification of conventional innate receptors, as well as molecules that resemble innate receptors but undergo germline and somatic modification, have been made recently. The range of such molecules, which include the fibrinogen-related proteins (FREPs) in a mollusc, variable region-containing chitin-binding proteins (VCBPs) in a cephalochordate, variable lymphocyte receptors (VLRs) in jawless vertebrates, and novel immune-type receptors (NITRs) in bony fish, encompasses both the immunoglobulin gene superfamily (IgSF) and leucine-rich repeat (LRR) proteins. Although these molecules vary markedly in form and likely in function, growing evidence suggests that they participate in various types of host defense and thereby represent significant alternatives to current paradigms of innate and adaptive immune receptors. Unusual genetic mechanisms for diversifying recognition proteins may be a widespread characteristic of animal immunity.

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