Book Review

Darja Henseler

Gordon MacPherson and Jon Austyn:
Exploring Immunology. Concepts and Evidence.

Paperback: 372 pages
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (0010)
Price: 108.00 EUR

Transmigration into Immunology

If you’d like to know how the immune system evolved in the face of all those viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites (and vice versa), this marvellous book will keep you gripped.

This was a good read. From it, your reviewer learned far more about B-cells, T-cells and the immune system in general than during her university lectures in basic immunology. Congratulations to the authors. Both have over 30 years experience of teaching and lecturing. Gordon MacPherson, a recently retired reader in experimental pathology and tutor in medicine, and Jon Austyn, professor of immunobio­logy, are from the University of Oxford. They did their best to make Exploring Immunology reader-friendly, taking the reader by the hand and leading them through the world of immunology.

Each chapter is structured into several sub points. Despite some cross references to other chapters, each stands alone. There are chapters dealing with the immune system in general, with immunity related to infection, functional anatomy of the immune system, innate immunity, T-cell mediated and antibody-mediated immunity and immunity concerning diseases and therapies. Every chapter includes questions to make the reader think about some aspect of immunology, which are answered in the annex.

Interesting insights

If you are a non-immunologist, you will be flabbergasted by statements like, “probably more than 99.9% of all potentially infectious agents are non-pathogenic in normal individuals” or that, “to increase the body’s temperature (e.g. during fever) by 1 °C needs as much energy as walking 35-40 km”.

Findings like these give interesting insights into the efforts a body has to undertake. Did you know that neutrophils, beside being the most common leukocytes in the blood, are able to extrude chromatin and certain enzymes to trap and digest certain bacteria outside the cell in so called neutrophil extracellular traps? Or that dead and dying neutrophils are the main component of pus? Were you aware that the incorporation of ink into macrophages is what makes tattoos permanent? And did you know that all B-cells originally produce IgM and IgD and can later switch to the production of other immunoglobulins?

Even more interesting was to learn how leukocytes can emigrate from blood through the endothelial cells and what happens if this mechanism does not work. Leukocytes use selectins to form loose adhesions to certain ligands on the endothelial cells, causing a rolling of leukocytes along the endothelium. Where inflammation is present, chemokines are released and bound to heavily glycosylated molecules presented on the endothelial cell. This binding stimulates tight adhesion mediated via integrins and results in transmigration of the leukocyte. There are rare cases where an integrin is defective, leading to an increased amount of neutrophils in the blood and a lack of neutrophils in tissues where they are needed. Patients then suffer from an increased incidence of pyogenic bacterial infections and nearly no pus formation at the sites of infection.

Touching personal comments

Beside some highlighted boxes, which give background information and explain various points in the text in more detail, there are also boxes describing real case studies, bringing the subject alive. There are personal touches peppered throughout the authors’ comments, for example that infection by tetanus toxin is not such a rare event as it actually happened to a woman known to one of the authors, or when, after their description of how Barry Marshall (recipient of a 2005 Nobel Prize for his work on peptic ulcers) drank a whole culture of Helicobacter pylori to prove that these bacteria induce peptic ulcer, they finish the sentence with, “but this approach is not to be generally recommended.”

To summarise: Exploring Immunology explains innate and adapted immunity with its associated immune cells and the different immune mechanisms according to the type of the infectious agent. For example in case of parasitic helminth worms, B cells produce IgEs, or in case of some bacterial infections these get opsonisated by complements, IgM or IgG.

Furthermore the book describes the anatomical and cellular components involved in immune responses, like lymph nodes and the spleen. And last but not least, it shows what happens if special components of the immune system do not work properly.

Simplifying a complex issue

Nonetheless, this book also discloses that immunology is a complex issue, where a lot of things are still not completely understood. This is probably due to the large number of different immune cells, which not only interact with certain pathogens, but also communicate and interact with each other via a number of signal molecules and receptors.

The only thing missing is a list of abbreviations, which is puzzling since the book is aimed mostly at undergraduates starting out on their studies of immunology. They first must get used to all of them – for the different immune cells, receptors, immune diseases etc. However, the authors also address readers at a higher professional level. Indeed, it might be interesting for them, too, because Exploring Immunology is a book whose title keeps its promise.

Letzte Änderungen: 07.08.2013