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ARTICLE |

The Biology of the Immune System

David P. Huston, MD
JAMA. 1997;278(22):1804-1814. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550220010004.
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Intact immunity is fundamental for survival. The human immune system has evolved with the sophisticated biologic capacity to distinguish self from nonself and for memory through the process of clonal expansion. The ability to distinguish even subtle differences from self, and among myriad antigens, is possible by the rearrangement of genes that encode immunoglobulins and T-cell receptors, as well as by the requirement for T cells to recognize antigens in the context of presentation by HLA molecules encoded within the major histocompatibility complex. Modulation of immune function initiated by antigenic stimulation and cell-cell interactions is facilitated by a plethora of soluble mediators such as cytokines. This overview of the biology of the immune system provides a framework for understanding physiologic immune responses and how lacunar defects within the immune system explain the pathogenesis of immunologic disorders. Through such understanding, potential targets can be identified for therapeutic modulation of the immune system.

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The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
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