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Environmental echoes

Posted on 21. October, 2015.

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Free review article in Science Progress
Allergy, auto immunity and cancer are becoming more prevalent in the developed world. One explanation might be that the immune system required to protect us from such problems is being inadequately trained, perhaps due to our increased separation from the environment which has shaped our mutating genes since we emerged from the primaeval ooze. 

Those infections which were the essential primers of our immunity are being prevented and action is needed to refocus the immune response without exposing us to the diseases of the past. In this paper we assess our place in relation to the environment and consider ways in which the situation can be redressed. There are considerable similarities between the immune system and human consciousness. Both enter the world in considerable ignorance of the events awaiting them, yet with the genetic ability, endowed by millennia of selection and evolution, to experience the world, to interpret and act on the experiences and to retain memory of the experiences. In both systems, maternal influences and early environmental encounters have profound effects on determining the patterns of subsequent responses. Ideally the ‘learned’ responses will benefit or protect the individual but inappropriate responses may lead to self damage. As the environment has altered irrevocably, attention must be paid to regulating the balance of immunological responsiveness to that expected of the normal immunological learning process. This should be possible by novel vaccination strategies.

Download the full article, free,  in Science Progress, Volume 84, Number 2, May 2001, pp.105-124.

Department of Medical Microbiology, Windeyer Institute of Medical Sciences, Royal Free and University College Medical School, 46 Cleveland Street, London W1T 4JF, UK.


Image: Interaction between the environment, regulation of the immune system and response to bacterial challenge.