Immune Defence: Microbial Interference


To cause diseases, pathogens must first breach physical barriers and then successfully replicate and disseminate while avoiding destruction by immune system. The immune system control is achieved by two defence mechanisms: the innate immune defence, which consists in a non‐specific mechanism present in organisms across all kingdoms, and the adaptive immunity defence, acquired over time following infections or vaccination. Despite the sophisticated immune system, extracellular and intracellular pathogens have developed numerous, and often ingenious strategies, to evade, interfere or eradicate the effectiveness of host immune defences. Although the strategies used by viral and bacterial pathogens are numerous, there are several general mechanisms shared between these microbial pathogens. The success of each pathogen depends on the coordinated activities of its virulence factors to overcome host barriers to colonisation and its ability to mount an effective anti‐immune response within the infected host, which can ultimately result in acute disease or chronic infection.

Key Concepts

  • Immunoglobulin proteases cleave antibodies rendering them non‐functional and leading to deficiencies in the immune system.
  • Complement regulators prevent complement activation and cell destruction.
  • Interference with major histocompatibility complexes overcomes T‐cell recognition.
  • Microbial interference with cytokines modulates intracellular signalling critical to the regulation, proliferation and differentiation of lymphocytes, which drive inflammation.
  • Intracellular resistance allows microorganisms to circumvent humoral defence mechanisms and spread within the host.
  • Immunosuppression reduces T or B lymphocytes' defence.

Keywords: destruction of immune molecules; cytokine antagonists; phagocytic uptake; intracellular resistance; destruction of immune cells

Figure 1. Cleavage of human immunoglobulin A1 (IgA1) and A2 (IgA2) by IgA proteases. Red arrows show possible bacterial IgA1 protease target sites on the IgA1 heavy chain and green arrows shows Clostridium ramosum IgA protease, which attack both IgA1 and IgA2.
Figure 2. Schematic outline of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I antigen processing. Points of interference for viral gene products are shown in the red boxes. ER, endoplasmic reticulum; TAP, transporter‐associated protein.
Figure 3. Schematic trafficking pathway of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II. Points of interference for viral gene products are shown in the red boxes. ADP, adenosine diphosphate; ATP, adenosine triphosphate; ER, endoplasmic reticulum; mRNA, messenger ribonucleic acid.


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Further Reading

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Merino, Susana, and Tomás, Juán M(Jul 2015) Immune Defence: Microbial Interference. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000487.pub4]