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17: Innate Nonspecific Host Defenses

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    5214
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    Despite relatively constant exposure to pathogenic microbes in the environment, humans do not generally suffer from constant infection or disease. Under most circumstances, the body is able to defend itself from the threat of infection thanks to a complex immune system designed to repel, kill, and expel disease-causing invaders. Immunity as a whole can be described as two interrelated parts: nonspecific innate immunity, which is the subject of this chapter, and specific adaptive host defenses, which are discussed in the next chapter.

    The nonspecific innate immune response provides a first line of defense that can often prevent infections from gaining a solid foothold in the body. These defenses are described as nonspecific because they do not target any specific pathogen; rather, they defend against a wide range of potential pathogens. They are called innate because they are built-in mechanisms of the human organism. Unlike the specific adaptive defenses, they are not acquired over time and they have no “memory” (they do not improve after repeated exposures to specific pathogens).

    Broadly speaking, nonspecific innate defenses provide an immediate (or very rapid) response against potential pathogens. However, these responses are neither perfect nor impenetrable. They can be circumvented by pathogens on occasion, and sometimes they can even cause damage to the body, contributing to the signs and symptoms of infection (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)).

    Photo of chickenpox rash on the back of a person’s shoulders.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Varicella, or chickenpox, is caused by the highly contagious varicella-zoster virus. The characteristic rash seen here is partly a result of inflammation associated with the body’s immune response to the virus. Inflammation is a response mechanism of innate immunity that helps the body fight off a wide range of infections. (credit: John Noble / CDC; Public Domain)

    • 17.1: Physical Defenses
      Nonspecific innate immunity provides a first line of defense against infection by nonspecifically blocking entry of microbes and targeting them for destruction or removal from the body. The physical defenses of innate immunity include physical barriers, mechanical actions that remove microbes and debris, and the microbiome, which competes with and inhibits the growth of pathogens. The skin, mucous membranes, and endothelia throughout the body serve as physical barriers.
    • 17.2: Chemical Defenses
      Numerous chemical mediators produced endogenously and exogenously exhibit nonspecific antimicrobial functions. Many chemical mediators are found in body fluids such as sebum, saliva, mucus, gastric and intestinal fluids, urine, tears, cerumen, and vaginal secretions. Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) found on the skin and in other areas of the body are largely produced in response to the presence of pathogens. These include dermcidin, cathelicidin, defensins, histatins, and bacteriocins.
    • 17.3: Cellular Defenses
      The formed elements of the blood include red blood cells (erythrocytes), white blood cells (leukocytes), and platelets (thrombocytes). Of these, leukocytes are primarily involved in the immune response. All formed elements originate in the bone marrow as stem cells (HSCs) that differentiate through hematopoiesis. Granulocytes are leukocytes characterized by a lobed nucleus and granules in the cytoplasm. These include neutrophils (PMNs), eosinophils, and basophils.
    • 17.4: Pathogen Recognition and Phagocytosis
      Phagocytes are cells that recognize pathogens and destroy them through phagocytosis. Recognition often takes place by the use of phagocyte receptors that bind molecules commonly found on pathogens, known as pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs). The receptors that bind PAMPs are called pattern recognition receptors, or PRRs. Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are one type of PRR found on phagocytes.
    • 17.5: Inflammation and Fever
      Inflammation results from the collective response of chemical mediators and cellular defenses to an injury or infection. Acute inflammation is short lived and localized to the site of injury or infection. Chronic inflammation occurs when the inflammatory response is unsuccessful, and may result in the formation of granulomas (e.g., with tuberculosis) and scarring (e.g., with hepatitis C viral infections and liver cirrhosis).
    • 17.E: Innate Nonspecific Host Defenses (Exercises)

    Thumbnail: Scanning electron micrograph of a phagocyte (yellow, right) phagocytosing anthrax bacilli (orange, left). (CC BY 2.5; Volker Brinkmann via PLOS).


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