Jerne, Niels Kaj


Niels Kaj Jerne (1911–1994) was a Danish immunologist who proposed a selection theory of antibody formation, the functional network of antibodies and lymphocytes and distinction of self from nonself by T lymphocytes. Jerne achieved scientific acclaim for his theories to explain immune system interactions. He postulated that the immune system contains specific antibody populations for interaction with antigens. He advanced the concept that the development of self‐tolerance takes place in the thymus and developed a ‘network theory’ postulating T‐ and B‐cell interactions. His network theory proposed that antibody active sites are attracted to specific antigens (idiotypes) as well as to antibodies reactive with the same site. He postulated that under physiological conditions, antibodies are in equilibrium or balance which is interrupted on exposure to antigen, leading to activation of an immune response. After working at the Danish National Serum Institute in Copenhagen, he joined the Biological Standards and Immunology Division of the World Health Organization in Geneva. He next served as Chair of Microbiology at the University of Pittsburg, PA but returned to Europe to serve as Professor at the University of Frankfurt and Director of the Paul Ehrlich Institute. Later, he was appointed Director of the Basel Institute for Immunology (1969–1980). He shared the 1984 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Köhler and Milstein in recognition of his natural selection theory and related immunological hypotheses.

Keywords: antibody avidity; natural selection theory of antibody formation; selection theory; self‐tolerance; network theory; idiotypes; antibodies; T lymphocytes

Figure 1.

Niels Kaj Jerne. Photograph from the private collection of Julius M. Cruse, MD, PhD. © Julius M. Cruse.


Further Reading

Greene MI and Nisonoff A (eds) (1984) The Biology of Idiotypes. New York: Plenum Press.

Jerne NK (1955) The natural selection theory of antibody formation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 41: 849.

Jerne NK (1960) Immunological speculations. Annual Review of Microbiology 14: 341–358.

Jerne NK (1966) The natural selection theory of antibody formation; ten years later. In: Cairns J, Stent GS and Watson JD (eds) Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology, pp. 301–312. Cold Spring Harbor: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory of Quantitative Biology.

Jerne NK (1974) Towards a network theory of the immune system. Annals of Immunology 125C: 373–389.

Jerne NK (1985) The generative grammar of the immune system. Science 229: 1057–1059.

Jerne NK, Henry C, Nordin AA et al. (1974) Plaque forming cells: methodology and theory. Transplantation Reviews 18: 130–191.

Köhler H (1984) The immune network revisited. In: Köhler H, Urbain J and Cazenave P‐A (eds) Idiotypy in Biology and Medicine, pp. 3–14. Orlando: Academic Press.

Nagy ZA (2013) A History of Modern Immunology. San Diego: Academic Press.

Silverstein AM (1989) A History of Immunology. San Diego: Academic Press.

Steinberg CM and Lefkovits I (eds) (1981) The Immune System. 1. Past and Future, 2 The Present. Festschrift in Honor of Niels Kaj Jerne on the Occasion of his 70th birthday. Basel: Karger.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Cruse, Julius M, and Lewis, Robert E(May 2014) Jerne, Niels Kaj. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0002838.pub2]