Immunological Memory


Immunological memory is a distinct characteristic of the immune system and it relates to its ability to remember antigens on pathogens, tumour cells, tissue of the immunological self, and cells and tissues derived from other individuals of the species and mount an immunological response of greater magnitude and with faster kinetics upon re‐encounter of the same antigens. This property provides an advantage in the course of protective responses against pathogens and tumour cells, but represents a threat in the case of allogeneic cell or tissue transplant. During the past decade considerable progress has been made in the elucidation of the multiple cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating the induction and maintenance of immunological memory. Although our understanding remains imperfect, the current cumulative information allows one to recognise operational patterns and identify those principles that will aid in the design of better vaccines and better understanding the role of immune system in protection against disease.

Key Concepts:

  • Immunological memory represents an important aspect of the immune response in mammals.

  • Immunological memory exists for both B lymphocytes (antibody producing cells) and for T cells.

  • Memory responses by the immune system occur according to only partially understood operational principles.

  • Memory responses form the basis for the effectiveness of vaccines against pathogens and cancer cells.

  • Memory responses protect the individual and the species against the threat of pathogens and cancer cells.

Keywords: immunological memory; B cells; T cells; germinal centre; memory B cells; effector memory T cells; central memory T cells; stem cell‐like memory T cells

Figure 1.

Dynamic view of the generation of memory B lymphocytes following the germinal center (GC) reaction. CD45RO (RO) and CD45RO+ (RO+) lymphocytes in GC are seen in relationship with somatic hypermutation. An inverse relationship exists for RO and RO+ B lymphocytes with respect to AID activity and cell proliferation (Ki67 positivity), whereas CD69 positivity (activation) increases, as cells become RO+. Memory (M) B cells derive from RO+ cells. Reproduced from Zanetti , with permission from American Society of Hematology.

Figure 2.

Schematic representation of the two main phases of the primary expansion leading into a long‐term response waiting to re‐encounter antigen. The programming and post‐programming phases, and their relationship with maintenance and homoeostatic proliferation are shown.

Figure 3.

Development and persistence of serum antibody and, generation and maintenance of immunological memory following one dose of noninfectious poliovirus vaccine. Reproduced from Zanetti et al., with permission from Elsevier.



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Further Reading

Ahmed R and Gray D (1996) Immunological memory and protective immunity: understanding their relation. Science 272: 54–60.

Crotty S (2011) Follicular helper CD4 T cells (TFH). Annual Review of Immunology 29: 621–663.

Zanetti M and Franchini G (2006) T cell memory and protective immunity. Is more better? Trends in Immunology 27: 511–517.

Zanetti M and Schoenberger S (eds) (2010) Memory T cells ISBN: 978‐1‐4419‐6450‐2. Austin, Texas: Landes Bioscience Publisher.

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Zanetti, Maurizio(Feb 2013) Immunological Memory. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000951.pub3]