Immunology, Self and Nonself

Thomas Pradeu and Elizabeth Vitanza

in The Limits of the Self

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199775286
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932818 | DOI:
Immunology, Self and Nonself

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This chapter investigates the different definitions of immunology, in particular the dominant definition stating that immunology is the discipline that studies the defense of organisms against pathogens. The different steps towards the autonomy of immunology as a discipline are examined, from immunization to the elaboration of a theory of immunity, and eventually the institutionalization of the domain. I propose my own definition of immunology as the discipline that studies specific interactions between immune receptors and antigenic patterns, triggering mechanisms that destroy or prevent the destruction of target antigens. I show that, contrary to what has long been believed, every organism has an immune system. I describe several examples of immune systems (in mammals, insects, plants, and even unicellulars). I close this chapter by an analysis of the concepts generally considered as central in immunology, those of “self” and “nonself.”

Keywords: immunity; immune system; innate immunity; adaptive immunity; self; nonself; phagocytosis; immunization; antigen; specificity

Chapter.  8945 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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