The mucosal immune system in health and disease, with an emphasis on parasitic infection.
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This article briefly describes the network of immunity involving selected humoral and cellular elements shared between mucosal surfaces that are both exposed to and remote from antigen challenge. The mechanisms promoting the production, concentration, and secretion of specific antibody isotypes, as well as the migration and localization of various lymphoid cell populations, have been discussed with regard to host mucosal protection against pathogenic agents and other potentially harmful macromolecules.Although certain aspects of the mucosal immune system may be viewed as separate from the systemic immune system, they are not exclusively so. We have drawn attention to their interactions with systemic immune reactants and other, nonimmunological, cellular and humoral constituents of mucosal surfaces and tissues such as the liver. At another level of interaction we have considered the teleological translation of host defence and immunoregulation from one generation to the next through the medium of colostrum and breast milk.The manipulation of the mucosal immune system in order to enhance host resistance, modulate autoimmune and allergic systemic reactivity, or even modify fertility holds great promise. Achievement of these goals depends on gaining further insight into the mechanisms that contribute to mucosal immunity and their interactions with the systemic immune system. Much of our current knowledge is based upon experimental animal models or human populations living in relative prosperity. However, the results of oral vaccination, for example, are known to differ considerably in populations that suffer from parasitic infestations, lack adequate nutrition, and are very old or very young. We have chosen to focus attention on these groups because they constitute a large proportion of the world's population and because mucosal infections are a common cause of illness and death among them.Lastly, the recent discovery that immune deficiencies due to insufficient dietary zinc may extend to subsequent generations of optimally nourished offspring calls for a re-evaluation of immunization protocols in malnourished populations, and of our current understanding of disease inheritance and susceptibility.
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