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Innate immune system

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See also: Immune system and Adaptive immune system

The innate immune system comprises the cells and mechanisms that defend the host from infection by other organisms, in a non-specific manner. This means that the cells of the innate system recognize and respond to pathogens in a generic way, but unlike the adaptive immune system, it does not confer long-lasting or protective immunity to the host.[1] Innate immune systems provide immediate defense against infection, and are found in all classes of plant and animal life.

The innate system is thought to constitute an evolutionarily older defense strategy, and is the dominant immune system found in plants, fungi, insects, and in primitive multicellular organisms (see Other forms of innate immunity).[2]

The major functions of the vertebrate innate immune system include:

Recruiting immune cells to sites of infection, through the production of chemical factors, including specialized chemical mediators, called cytokines.

Activation of the complement cascade to identify bacteria, activate cells and to promote clearance of dead cells or antibody complexes.

The identification and removal of foreign substances present in organs, tissues, the blood and lymph, by specialized white blood cells.

Activation of the adaptive immune system through a process known as antigen presentation.

Inflammation is one of the first responses of the immune system to infection or irritation. Inflammation is stimulated by chemical factors released by injured cells and serves to establish a physical barrier against the spread of infection, and to promote healing of any damaged tissue following the clearance of pathogens.[3]

Chemical factors produced during inflammation (histamine, bradykinin, serotonin, leukotrienes also prostaglandins) sensitize pain receptors, cause vasodilation of the blood vessels at the scene, and attract phagocytes, especially neutrophils.[3] Neutrophils then trigger other parts of the immune system by releasing factors that summon other leukocytes and lymphocytes.

The inflammatory response is characterized by the following symptom quintet: Redness (rubor) Heat (calor) Swelling (tumor) Pain (dolor) and possible dysfunction of the organs or tissues involved (functio laesa).

[edit] Complement system

Main article: Complement system

The complement system is a biochemical cascade of the immune system that helps, or “complements”, the ability of antibodies to clear pathogens or mark them for destruction by other cells. The cascade is composed of many plasma proteins, synthesized in the liver, primarily by hepatocytes. The proteins work together to:

trigger the recruitment of inflammatory cells.

"tag" pathogens for destruction by other cells by opsonizing, or coating, the surface of the pathogen.

disrupt the plasma membrane of an infected cell, resulting in cytolysis of the infected cell, causing the death of the pathogen.

rid the body of neutralized antigen-antibody complexes.

Elements of the complement cascade can be found in many nonmammalian species including plants, birds, fish and some species of invertebrates.[4]

Cells of the innate immune response

Main article: Leukocyte

A scanning electron microscope image of normal circulating human blood. One can see red blood cells, several knobby white blood cells including lymphocytes, a monocyte, a neutrophil, and many small disc-shaped platelets.All white blood cells (WBC) are known as leukocytes. Leukocytes are different from other cells of the body in that they are not tightly associated with a particular organ or tissue; thus, they function similar to independent, single-celled organisms. Leukocytes are able to move freely and interact with and capture cellular debris, foreign particles, or invading microorganisms. Unlike many other cells in the body, most innate immune leukocytes cannot divide or reproduce on their own, but are the products of pluripotent hematopoietic stem cells present in the bone marrow.[1]

The innate leukocytes include: Natural killer cells, mast cells, eosinophils, basophils; and the phagocytic cells including macrophages, neutrophils and dendritic cells, and function within the immune system by identifying and eliminating pathogens that might cause infection.[2]

[edit] Mast cells

Main article: Mast cell

Mast cells are a type of innate immune cell that resides in the connective tissue and in the mucous membranes, and are intimately associated with defense against pathogens, wound healing, but are also often associated with allergy and anaphylaxis.[3] When activated, mast cells rapidly release characteristic granules, rich in histamine and heparin, along with various hormonal mediators, and chemokines, or chemotactic cytokines into the environment. Histamine dilates blood vessels, causing the characteristic signs of inflammation, and recruits neutrophils and macrophages.[3]

[edit] Phagocytes

Main article: Phagocytosis

The word 'phagocyte' literally means 'eating cell'. These are immune cells that engulf, i.e. phagocytose, pathogens or particles. To engulf a particle or pathogen, a phagocyte extends portions of its plasma membrane, wrapping the membrane around the particle until it is enveloped (i.e. the particle is now inside the cell). Once inside the cell, the invading pathogen is contained inside an endosome which merges with a lysosome.[2] The lysosome contains enzymes and acids that kill and digest the particle or organism. Phagocytes generally patrol the body searching for pathogens, but are also able to react to a group of highly specialized molecular signals produced by other cells, called cytokines. The phagocytic cells of the immune system include macrophages, neutrophils, and dendritic cells.

Phagocytosis of the hosts’ own cells is common as part of regular tissue development and maintenance. When host cells die, either internally induced by processes involving programmed cell death (also called apoptosis), or caused by cell injury due to a bacterial or viral infection, phagocytic cells are responsible for their removal from the affected site.[1] By helping to remove dead cells preceding growth and development of new healthy cells, phagocytosis is an important part of the healing process following tissue injury.

[edit] Macrophages

Macrophages, from the Greek, meaning "large eating cell", are large phagocytic leukocytes, which are able to move outside of the vascular system by moving across the cell membrane of capillary vessels and entering the areas between cells in pursuit of invading pathogens. In tissues, organ-specific macrophages are differentiated from phagocytic cells present in the blood called monocytes. Macrophages are the most efficient phagocytes, and can phagocytose substantial numbers of bacteria or other cells or microbes.[2] The binding of bacterial molecules to receptors on the surface of a macrophage triggers it to engulf and destroy the bacteria through the generation of a “respiratory burst”, causing the release of reactive oxygen species. Pathogens also stimulate the macrophage to produce chemokines, which summons other cells to the site of infection.[2]

[edit] Neutrophils

A neutrophilNeutrophils, along with two other cell types; eosinophils and basophils (see below), are known as granulocytes due to the presence of granules in their cytoplasm, or as polymorphonuclear cells (PMNs) due to their distinctive lobed nuclei. Neutrophil granules contain a variety of toxic substances that kill or inhibit growth of bacteria and fungi. Similar to macrophages, neutrophils attack pathogens by activating a respiratory burst. The main products of the neutrophil respiratory burst are strong oxidizing agents including hydrogen peroxide, free oxygen radicals and hypochlorite. Neutrophils are the most abundant type of phagocyte, normally representing 50 to 60% of the total circulating leukocytes, and are usually the first cells to arrive at the site of an infection.[3] The bone marrow of a normal healthy adult produces more than 100 billion neutrophils per day, and more than 10 times that many per day during acute inflammation.[3]

[edit] Dendritic cells

Dendritic cells (DC) are phagocytic cells present in tissues that are in contact with the external environment, mainly the skin (where they are often called Langerhans cells), and the inner mucosal lining of the nose, lungs, stomach and intestines.[1] They are named for their resemblance to neuronal dendrites, but dendritic cells are not connected to the nervous system. Dendritic cells are very important in the process of antigen presentation, and serve as a link between the innate and adaptive immune systems.

An eosinophil[edit] Basophils and eosinophils

Main articles: Basophil granulocyte and Eosinophil granulocyte

Basophils and eosinophils are cells related to the neutrophil (see above). When activated by a pathogen encounter, basophils releasing histamine are important in defense against parasites, and play a role in allergic reactions (such as asthma).[2] Upon activation, eosinophils secrete a range of highly toxic proteins and free radicals that are highly effective in killing bacteria and parasites, but are also responsible for tissue damage occurring during allergic reactions. Activation and toxin release by eosinophils is therefore tightly regulated to prevent any inappropriate tissue destruction.[3]

[edit] Natural killer cells

Main article: Natural killer cell

Natural killer cells, or NK cells, are a component of the innate immune system which does not directly attack invading microbes. Rather, NK cells destroy compromised host cells, such as tumor cells or virus-infected cells, recognizing such cells by a condition known as "missing self." This term describes cells with low levels of a cell-surface marker called MHC I (major histocompatibility complex) - a situation that can arise in viral infections of host cells.[4] They were named "natural killer" because of the initial notion that they do not require activation in order to kill cells that are "missing self."

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