The Immune System

The cells of the immune system and their responses to infection are obviously complex, but can be partitioned into two separate but interacting components those that provide innate immunity and those that provide acquired (or adaptive) immunity (Fig. 1). Both components are influenced by nutrition (Table 1).

The component of the immune system that protects the host animal but does not distinguish one pathogen from another provides innate immunity. For example, macrophages recognize pathogens using relatively indiscriminant receptors. They ingest and degrade microorganisms, and provide important signals (e.g., cytokines) that orchestrate other aspects of the immune response. The innate immune system is inherent and the capacity of it to respond does not change or improve from the first encounter with a particular pathogen to the second encounter. Neutrophils and natural killer (NK) cells are also important for innate immunity.

Acquired immunity is a highly specific response to a specific pathogen that is acquired over time due to previous exposure to that same pathogen or through vaccination. Fully differentiated B lymphocytes (i.e., plasma cells) secrete pathogen-specific antibodies, whereas T lymphocytes use discrete receptors to recognize and kill infected cells or activate other cells of the immune system. The initial exposure to a pathogen produces lymphocytes with immu-nological memory so that if the pathogen is encountered a second time, a rapid response is initiated and the pathogen is eliminated before visible signs of infection appear.

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