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Host and Microbe Adaptations in the Evolution of Immunity

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The evolution of metazoans has been accompanied by new interfaces with the microbial environment that include biological barriers and surveillance by specialized cell types. Increasingly complex organisms require increased capacities to confront pathogens, achieved by co-evolution of recognition mechanisms ...

The evolution of metazoans has been accompanied by new interfaces with the microbial environment that include biological barriers and surveillance by specialized cell types. Increasingly complex organisms require increased capacities to confront pathogens, achieved by co-evolution of recognition mechanisms and regulatory pathways. Two distinct but interactive forms of immunity have evolved. Innate immunity, shared by all metazoans, is traditionally viewed as simple and non-specific. Adaptive immunity possesses the capacity to anticipate new infectious challenges and recall previous exposures; the most well-understood example of such a system, exhibited by lymphocytes of vertebrates, is based on somatic gene alterations that generate extraordinary specificity in discrimination of molecular structures. Our understanding of immune phylogeny over the past decades has tried to reconcile immunity from a vertebrate standpoint. While informative, such approaches cannot completely address the complex nature of selective pressures brought to bear by the complex microbiota (including pathogens) that co-exist with all metazoans.

In recent years, comparative studies (and new technologies) have broadened our concepts of immunity from a systems-wide perspective. Unexpected findings, e.g., genetic expansions of innate receptors, high levels of polymorphism, RNA-based forms of generating diversity, adaptive evolution and functional divergence of gene families and the recognition of novel mediators of adaptive immunity, prompt us to reconsider the very nature of immunity. Even fundamental paradigms as to how the jawed vertebrate adaptive immune system should be structured for “optimal” recognition potential have been disrupted more than once (e.g., the discovery of the multicluster organization and germline joining of immunoglobulin genes in sharks, gene conversion as a mechanism of somatic diversification, absence of IgM or MHC II in certain teleost fishes). Mechanistically, concepts of innate immune memory, often referred to as “trained memory,” have been realized further, with the development of new discoveries in studies of epigenetic regulation of somatic lineages. Immune systems innovate and adapt in a taxon-specific manner, driven by the complexity of interactions with microbial symbionts (commensals, mutualists and pathogens). Immune systems are shaped by selective forces that reflect consequences of dynamic interactions with microbial environments as well as a capacity for rapid change that can be facilitated by genomic instabilities. We have learned that characterizing receptors and receptor interactions is not necessarily the most significant component in understanding the evolution of immunity. Rather, such a subject needs to be understood from a more global perspective and will necessitate re-consideration of the physical barriers that afford protection and the developmental processes that create them.

By far, the most significant paradigm shifts in our understanding of immunity and the infection process has been that microbes no longer are considered to be an automatic cause or consequence of illness, but rather integral components of normal physiology and homeostasis. Immune phylogeny has been shaped not only by an arms race with pathogens but also perhaps by mutualistic interactions with resident microbes. This Research Topic updates and extends the previous e-Book on Changing Views of the Evolution of Immunity (http://journal.frontiersin.org/researchtopic/225/changing-views-of-the-evolution-of-immunity) and will contain peer-reviewed submissions of original research, reviews and opinions.


Keywords: immune evolution, innate immunity, adaptive immunity, host-microbe, co-option


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