Antigenspecific versus antigennonspecific responses

An antigen is a molecular structure (often protein, but also nucleic acid, sugar, or lipid) which induces an 'adaptive' immune response specific for its unique molecular nature (sequence or shape). Traditionally, the measure of this response was the production of a soluble plasma protein (antibody) which specifically binds the antigen. As yet, this measure of immune response is the only one in routine clinical practice. We now know that the specific response can also be cellular, leading to cellular cytotoxicity or cytokine-dependent macrophage activation.

The cells of the immune system, particularly the tissue macrophage, can also mount less specific generalized responses against potentially dangerous micro-organisms. Most specific immune responses probably need to be associated with non-specific responses in order to get started. These non-specific responses are usually asymptomatic, and we know little of their molecular nature. However, when the response is excessive, immunopathology results in the process of inflammation which has been the subject of intense study.

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