Abbas A. K., and Lichtman, A. H., Saunders, Philadelphia, 2003, 562 pp., ISBN 0-7216-0008-5, $58.95.
Whereas biochemistry depends heavily of the tools of immunology for its progress, our understanding of immunology depends increasingly on the techniques of cell biochemistry and molecular biology. This sentence could be made into an excellent examination question by adding “Illustrate” or “Discuss,” but it would be a “big” question. We are fortunate now to have a number of excellent immunology textbooks that attempt to explain the details of this ever-expanding field, and that also of course have the most far-reaching medical significance. On the whole, students like immunology and see its relevance, but are more and more challenged by its complexity. Hence the need for good text books.
The first edition of the text of Abbas and Lichman appeared in 1991 and has already undergone four revisions in order to try to keep up with the amazing growth of the subject. Like practically all immunology texts at this level, it has its own set of icons for the cells (they usually look like poached eggs) and proteins of the immune system to help students' understanding, and these are presented throughout the text in full color. I thought that the figures were very clear, and were also frequently related to histological pictures and ribbon diagrams of protein molecules. I also liked the abundance of very detailed “boxes” on a variety of subjects, such as “Immunity to Malaria,” “Transgenic Mouse Models for the Analysis of Tolerance and Autoimmunity,” “The Complement System in Disease,” to name but a few. Each chapter ends with a summary and a limited list of “Further Readings,” mostly to reviews in Annual Reviews, Nature Reviews Immunology, Immunology Today, etc. The summaries were very important because a number of times in the text I found myself wanting to know what the mechanism was, only to find the details deferred to a future chapter. This is a problem of course with immunology being so complicated and so interlinked. Do you deal with the human histocompatibility leukocyte antigens (HLAs) before the T cell receptors (TCRs) before the CDs, or the other way round, and so on? Authors, like lecturers in this subject area, have to plump for a way to explain that they think students will grasp.
The new edition is divided into five large sections: “Introduction” (2 chapters), “Recognition of Antigens” (4), “Maturation, Activation, and Regulation” (4), “Effector Mechanisms of Immune Responses” (5), and “The Immune System in Disease” (5). In addition, there are three appendices: “Glossary,” “Principal Features of CD Molecules,” and “Lab Techniques.” A number of areas have undergone extensive updating since the last edition (2000), including Toll-like receptors, the role of chemokines, the functions of adapter proteins and kinase pathways in signal transduction, and the basis of natural killer cell recognition of ligands. Probably the level is more at the graduate course than the undergraduate course, and although medically oriented people would probably find the boxes interesting, the emphasis would likely be inappropriate for their needs. Although the expansion in the subject area warrants frequent up-datings, one wonders how long these authors can keep up the revisions at almost 3-year intervals.