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Evolution of the innate immune system: the worm perspective


* Hinrich Schulenburg
Department of Evolutionary Biology
Institute for Animal Evolution and Ecology
Westphalian Wilhelms-University
Huefferstr. 1, 48149 Muenster
Tel.: +49 251 8321019
Fax: +49 251 8324668


Summary:  Simple model organisms that are amenable to comprehensive experimental analysis can be used to elucidate the molecular genetic architecture of complex traits. They can thereby enhance our understanding of these traits in other organisms, including humans. Here, we describe the use of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a tractable model system to study innate immunity. We detail our current understanding of the worm's immune system, which seems to be characterized by four main signaling cascades: a p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase, a transforming growth factor-β-like, a programed cell death, and an insulin-like receptor pathway. Many details, especially regarding pathogen recognition and immune effectors, are only poorly characterized and clearly warrant further investigation. We additionally speculate on the evolution of the C. elegans immune system, taking into special consideration the relationship between immunity, stress responses and digestion, the diversification of the different parts of the immune system in response to multiple and/or coevolving pathogens, and the trade-off between immunity and host life history traits. Using C. elegans to address these different facets of host–pathogen interactions provides a fresh perspective on our understanding of the structure and complexity of innate immune systems in animals and plants.