The thymus and the science of self.

Abstract:

:The conventional perception asserts that immunology is the science of 'discrimination' between self and non-self. This concept is however no longer tenable as effector cells of the adaptive immune system are first conditioned to be tolerant to the body's own antigens, collectively known as self until now. Only then attain these effectors the responsiveness to non-self. The acquisition of this essential state of tolerance to self occurs for T cells in the thymus, the last major organ of our body that revealed its intricate function in health and disease. The 'thymus' as an anatomical notion was first notably documented in Ancient Greece although our present understanding of the organ's functions was only deciphered commencing in the 1960s. In the late 1980s, the thymus was identified as the site where clones of cells reactive to self, termed 'forbidden' thymocytes, are physically depleted as the result of a process now known as negative selection. The recognition of this mechanism further contributed to the belief that the central rationale of immunology as a science lies in the distinction between self and non-self. This review will discuss the evidence that the thymus serves as a unique lymphoid organ able to instruct T cells to recognize and be tolerant to harmless self before adopting the capacity to defend the body against potentially injurious non-self-antigens presented in the context of different challenges from infections to exposure to malignant cells. The emerging insight into the thymus' cardinal functions now also provides an opportunity to exploit this knowledge to develop novel strategies that specifically prevent or even treat organ-specific autoimmune diseases.

journal_name

Semin Immunopathol

authors

Geenen V

doi

10.1007/s00281-020-00831-y

subject

Has Abstract

pub_date

2021-01-07 00:00:00

eissn

1863-2297

issn

1863-2300

pii

10.1007/s00281-020-00831-y

pub_type

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