Chapter

Critique of the Self-Nonself Theory

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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199775286.003.0004
Critique of the Self-Nonself Theory

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This chapter offers a critique of the self-nonself theory. I first analyze data on autoreactivity and normal autoimmunity, in particular phagocytosis and regulatory cells, in order to reject the idea that self constituents do not trigger immune responses. In a second step, thanks to a description of immune tolerance to genetically foreign entities, including the fetus and huge amounts of commensal and symbiotic bacteria, I reject the idea that every nonself triggers an immune response of rejection. I show that every organism is “impure” in so far as it contains a great number of “nonself” constituents. I conclude that the self-nonself theory is experimentally inadequate, and conceptually too vague to still be used as a satisfying scientific framework to explain the triggering of immune responses.

Keywords: autoimmunity; tolerance; transplantation; fetus; chimerism; symbiosis; immune surveillance; immune privilege; phagocytosis; regulatory cells

Chapter.  13257 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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