By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Describe hypersensitivity
- Define autoimmunity
A functioning immune system is essential for survival, but even the sophisticated cellular and molecular defenses of the mammalian immune response can be defeated by pathogens at virtually every step. In the competition between immune protection and pathogen evasion, pathogens have the advantage of more rapid evolution because of their shorter generation time, large population sizes and often higher mutation rates. Thus pathogens have evolved a diverse array of immune escape mechanisms. For instance, Streptococcus pneumoniae(the bacterium that causes pneumonia and meningitis) surrounds itself with a capsule that inhibits phagocytes from engulfing it and displaying antigens to the adaptive immune system. Staphylococcus aureus(the bacterium that can cause skin infections, abscesses, and meningitis) synthesizes a toxin called leukocidin that kills phagocytes after they engulf the bacterium. Other pathogens can also hinder the adaptive immune system. HIV infects TH cells using their CD4 surface molecules, gradually depleting the number of TH cells in the body (Figure 17.21); this inhibits the adaptive immune system’s capacity to generate sufficient responses to infection or tumors. As a result, HIV-infected individuals often suffer from infections that would not cause illness in people with healthy immune systems but which can cause devastating illness to immune-compromised individuals.
Inappropriate responses of immune cells and molecules themselves can also disrupt the proper functioning of the entire system, leading to host-cell damage that can become fatal.