[Skip to Navigation]
December 10, 1997

The Biology of the Immune System

JAMA. 1997;278(22):1804-1814. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550220010004

Intact immunity is fundamental for survival. The human immune system has evolved with the sophisticated biologic capacity to distinguish self from nonself and for memory through the process of clonal expansion. The ability to distinguish even subtle differences from self, and among myriad antigens, is possible by the rearrangement of genes that encode immunoglobulins and T-cell receptors, as well as by the requirement for T cells to recognize antigens in the context of presentation by HLA molecules encoded within the major histocompatibility complex. Modulation of immune function initiated by antigenic stimulation and cell-cell interactions is facilitated by a plethora of soluble mediators such as cytokines. This overview of the biology of the immune system provides a framework for understanding physiologic immune responses and how lacunar defects within the immune system explain the pathogenesis of immunologic disorders. Through such understanding, potential targets can be identified for therapeutic modulation of the immune system.