Cellular Self-Defense: How Cell-Autonomous Immunity Protects Against Pathogens

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Science  10 May 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6133, pp. 701-706
DOI: 10.1126/science.1233028

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Defense and Counter-Defense

Provided a pathogen can enter the body and survive coughing and spluttering, peristalsis, and mucus, the first active responses the host evokes to an invading organism will be at the level of the first cell encountered, well before classical cellular immunity and antibody responses are initiated. Randow et al. (p. 701) review the range of intracellular defenses against incoming pathogens and describe how compartmental boundaries within the cell provide multiple levels at which pathogens can be thwarted in their attempts to subjugate the cell to do their bidding. Baxt et al. (p. 697) review the range of evasion tactics that bacterial pathogens can summon to counter host repulsion and establish a niche in which to replicate and ensure onward transmission.


Our prevailing view of vertebrate host defense is strongly shaped by the notion of a specialized set of immune cells as sole guardians of antimicrobial resistance. Yet this view greatly underestimates a capacity for most cell lineages—the majority of which fall outside the traditional province of the immune system—to defend themselves against infection. This ancient and ubiquitous form of host protection is termed cell-autonomous immunity and operates across all three domains of life. Here, we discuss the organizing principles that govern cellular self-defense and how intracellular compartmentalization has shaped its activities to provide effective protection against a wide variety of microbial pathogens.

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