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19: Diseases of the Immune System

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    An allergic reaction is an immune response to a type of antigen called an allergen. Allergens can be found in many different items, from peanuts and insect stings to latex and some drugs. Unlike other kinds of antigens, allergens are not necessarily associated with pathogenic microbes, and many allergens provoke no immune response at all in most people.

    Allergic responses vary in severity. Some are mild and localized, like hay fever or hives, but others can result in systemic, life-threatening reactions. Anaphylaxis, for example, is a rapidly developing allergic reaction that can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure and severe swelling of the throat that may close off the airway.

    Allergies are just one example of how the immune system—the system normally responsible for preventing disease—can actually cause or mediate disease symptoms. In this chapter, we will further explore allergies and other disorders of the immune system, including hypersensitivity reactions, autoimmune diseases, transplant rejection, and diseases associated with immunodeficiency.

    Photo of a bee on a flower. Photo of an EpiPen.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Bee stings and other allergens can cause life-threatening, systemic allergic reactions. Sensitive individuals may need to carry an epinephrine auto-injector (e.g., EpiPen) in case of a sting. A bee-sting allergy is an example of an immune response that is harmful to the host rather than protective; epinephrine counteracts the severe drop in blood pressure that can result from the immune response. (credit right: modification of work by Carol Bleistine)

    • 19.1: Hypersensitivities
      An allergy is an adaptive immune response, sometimes life-threatening, to an allergen. Hypersensitivity reactions are classified by their immune mechanism.
    • 19.2: Autoimmune Disorders
      Autoimmune diseases result from a breakdown in immunological tolerance. The actual induction event(s) for autoimmune states are largely unknown. Some autoimmune diseases attack specific organs, whereas others are more systemic. Organ-specific autoimmune diseases include celiac disease, Graves disease, Hashimoto thyroiditis, type I diabetes mellitus, and Addison disease.
    • 19.3: Organ Transplantation and Rejection
      Grafts and transplants can be classified as autografts, isografts, allografts, or xenografts based on the genetic differences between the donor’s and recipient’s tissues. Genetic differences, especially among the MHC (HLA) genes, will dictate the likelihood that rejection of the transplanted tissue will occur. Transplant recipients usually require immunosuppressive therapy to avoid rejection, even with good genetic matching.
    • 19.4: Immunodeficiency
      Primary immunodeficiencies are caused by genetic abnormalities; secondary immunodeficiencies are acquired through disease, diet, or environmental exposures. Primary immunodeficiencies may result from flaws in phagocyte killing of innate immunity, or impairment of T cells and B cells. Primary immunodeficiencies include chronic granulomatous disease, X-linked agammaglobulinemia, selective IgA deficiency, and severe combined immunodeficiency disease.
    • 19.5: Cancer Immunobiology and Immunotherapy
      When control of the cell cycle is lost, the affected cells rapidly divide and often lose the ability to differentiate into the cell type appropriate for their location in the body. In addition, they lose contact inhibition and can start to grow on top of each other. This can result in formation of a tumor. It is important to make a distinction here: The term “cancer” is used to describe the diseases resulting from loss of cell-cycle regulation and subsequent cell proliferation.
    • 19.E: Diseases of the Immune System (Exercises)

    Thumbnail: Allergens in plant pollen, shown here in a colorized electron micrograph, may trigger allergic rhinitis or hay fever in sensitive individuals. (Public Domain/modified from original; Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility, Dartmouth College via Wikimedia Commons).

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