Viruses Immunity To

Andrew Carmichael and JG Patrick Sissons, Department of Medicine, University of Cambridge Clinical School, Cambridge, UK

Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites which can cause a spectrum of disease from asymptomatic persistent infection to fatal illness. The need to resist virus infection has been a major driving force in the evolution of the immune system, in particular of those facets of the immune response involved in the recognition of foreign antigens on the surface of cells. From the time of Jenner's observation that exposure to cowpox gave protection, or immunity, against smallpox, the study of viruses has prompted research in immunology, and the disciplines of virology and immunology continue to be closely interrelated. For instance, a considerable amount of work in immunology is still driven by the need to produce vaccines to protect against current pathogens, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Detailed studies of individual viruses (such as influenza) have made important contributions to the understanding of molecular recognition of antigen by T cells, and recombinant vaccinia viruses provide a research tool for introducing foreign antigens into cells. As well as producing tissue damage by direct cytopathic effects, viruses may also evoke immune responses which are harmful to the host; these may include responses directed primarily against virus-infected cells (in which uninfected bystander cells may also be damaged), and autoimmune responses against uninfected cells.

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