I happened upon the Nobel Prize page for early Immune system pioneers… Yay for early immune system pioneers! The page features Ilya Mechnikov and his experiments of sticking thorns into larvae and Paul Ehrlich’s research surrounding his “side-chain theory” which was to become the beginning of our understandings of antibodies. I am most intrigued by Ehrlich’s statement that “as a condition of life, organisms should not be reactive against their own tissues.” (Found at Ian R. Mackay, “Autoimmunity,” in AccessScience, 2008, http://www.accessscience.com)
These early discoveries of protecting against disease because of internal bodily regulation and memory prompted our contemporary understandings of how our bodies, through the immune system, prevent disease and infection. These mechanisms, however, are also the underlying mechanisms of autoimmune diseases – where the body is indeed reactive against its own tissues. Responding to Ehrlich, can the autoimmune be considered a condition of life?
Circulating autoantibodies is normal for healthy individuals. Most people have them, but they don’t become “activated” against the body’s self-material. These conditions of autoimmunity may help to prevent other infectious diseases, like tuberculosis that I posted about previously. However, once triggered, these autoantibodies become “hyperactive” and “out-of-control.” This is still life, however, and many live with this sort of immune system. We may even be evolving towards it.