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Annu Rev Anim Biosci. 2014 Feb;2:259-83. doi: 10.1146/annurev-animal-022513-114201. Epub 2013 Nov 8.

Origin and evolution of adaptive immunity.

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Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics, 79108 Freiburg, Germany; email: ,


The evolutionary emergence of vertebrates was accompanied by major morphological and functional innovations, including the development of an adaptive immune system. Vertebrate adaptive immunity is based on the clonal expression of somatically diversifying antigen receptors on lymphocytes. This is a common feature of both the jawless and jawed vertebrates , although these two groups of extant vertebrates employ structurally different types of antigen receptors and principal mechanisms for their somatic diversification . These observations suggest that the common vertebrate ancestor must have already possessed a complex immune system, including B- and T-like lymphocyte lineages and primary lymphoid organs, such as the thymus, but possibly lacked the facilities for somatic diversification of antigen receptors. Interestingly, memory formation, previously considered to be a defining feature of adaptive immunity, also occurs in the context of innate immune responses and can even be observed in unicellular organisms, attesting to the convergent evolutionary history of distinct aspects of adaptive immunity.


antigen receptor; lymphocyte; lymphoid organ; somatic diversification

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