Genetics of the Immune System: Dr. Medzhitov

Kristen Sparrow • February 02, 2012

An interesting story about a Russian scientist who has studied the immune system of vertebrates. There is an innate immune system and an adaptive immune system, and he with Dr. Janeway identified the mechanism whereby the innate system triggers the adaptive one. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly in this blog, my hunch is that this is part of the way that acupuncture works, by triggering the body’s own immune mechanisms for healing. I will excerpt some of the article here. Info on my practice here.

A Long Journey to Immune System Insights

Ruslan M. Medzhitov loves scientific puzzles. And this penchant has led him to tackle some of the big questions of modern biology.

At Yale University, where he is a professor of immunology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, Dr. Medzhitov, 45, helped make key discoveries in the workings of vertebrates’ immune systems. ..

Let’s talk about the paper by the immunologist Charles A. Janeway Jr. that changed your life. When did you learn about it?

…The only library with anything was at the Academy of Natural Sciences, and it barred nonaffiliated people from their facilities. Luckily, I had made friends with some very kind young women who worked there and who permitted me to use the library, secretly.

And it was there, one day, that I stumbled upon this three-year-old paper by Janeway, where he proposed a theory of immunity. I read it and my eyes opened up. I thought, “Now I see.”

What was in the paper?

A revolutionary idea of how the immune system worked. In vertebrates, two immune systems protect against infection. There’s the evolutionarily older system that all organisms, even plants, have — the innate immune system. There is also another system that evolved relatively recently, the adaptive immune system, which only vertebrates have. Janeway proposed that the innate system detects invading microbes, distinguishes them from everything else and signals the adaptive immune system to move against the intruder...

How did you finally prove his theory?

Our main goal was to discover the gene in the cells of the innate immune system that activates the adaptive system. That would explain how our body knows we have an infection and translates it into an immune response. It took about two years, but we found it. Today, this gene is known at the human Toll-like receptor, and it is important in immunity and in inducing inflammation.