Innate Versus Acquired Immunity

A primary distinction within the immune system is between innate immunity (also known as natural or nonspecific immunity) and acquired (or specific) immunity. Innate immunity provides a first line of defense by attacking foreign substances rapidly in a nonspecific manner, without requiring that a specific antigen (or antibody-generating molecule) be recognized (Table 9-1). Although this lack of antigenic specificity precludes the development of an immunological memory to speed the response should a pathogen be encountered again in the future, the nonselectivity of the innate immune system allows for a rapid response to a wide variety of environmental assaults. The immediate response sets in motion a complicated series of processes that contribute to activation of the acquired immune system, which responds more slowly, but far more selectively, to the particular invading entity. An acquired immune response requires specific recognition of a foreign substance and allows for the establishment of memory cells that react far more quickly when the same substance is again encountered. Finally, both innate and acquired immune systems contain mechanisms to control and extinguish activation; therefore, immune activity, with its attendant metabolic costs and danger of self attack, does not become self-perpetuating.

TABLE 9-1. Major divisions of the immune response

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