The environment consists of numerous pathogens, which are agents, usually microorganisms, that cause diseases in their hosts. A host is the organism that is invaded and often harmed by a pathogen. Pathogens include bacteria, protists, fungi and other infectious organisms. We are constantly exposed to pathogens in food and water, on surfaces, and in the air. Mammalian immune systems evolved for protection from such pathogens; they are composed of an extremely diverse array of specialized cells and soluble molecules that coordinate a rapid and flexible defense system capable of providing protection from a majority of these disease agents.

Vaccines were developed to reduce the chance of infection of a particular disease, such as measles, mumps, polio, or chicken pox, by assisting the body to develop immunity. However, many diseases still do not have a vaccine, such as the deadly disease caused by the Ebola virus. Data from the World Health Organization indicates that more than 11,000 people died out of over 27,000 cases reported during the 2014–2015 outbreak. Though the majority of the cases were in Africa, Ebola did spread to other countries and prompted researchers to try to find a treatment.

An antibody molecule is comprised of four polypeptides: two identical heavy chains (large peptide units) that are partially bound to each other in a “Y” formation, which are flanked by two identical light chains (small peptide units).

The immune system comprises both innate and adaptive immune responses. Innate immunity occurs naturally because of genetic factors or physiology; it is not induced by infection or vaccination but works to reduce the workload for the adaptive immune response. Both the innate and adaptive levels of the immune response involve secreted proteins, receptor-mediated signaling, and intricate cell-to-cell communication. The innate immune system developed early in animal evolution, roughly a billion years ago, as an essential response to infection. Innate immunity has a limited number of specific targets: any pathogenic threat triggers a consistent sequence of events that can identify the type of pathogen and either clear the infection independently or mobilize a highly specialized adaptive immune response. For example, tears and mucus secretions contain microbicidal factors.

Adaptive immune response takes days or even weeks to become established—much longer than the innate response—and is more specific to pathogens and involves molecular memory.

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