MEDICA.de: How does this view of the immune system differ from previous views?
Hartmann: Immunity research has experienced several waves of development. Until about 1965, we primarily dealt with the humoral immune system, which includes B cells and the antibodies they produce. Then we found out that T cells in turn regulate B cells. The special characteristic of both immune cell types, the B and T cells, is that they create new genes through the process of recombination during the course of a person’s life. This also creates new receptors, which are specifically geared towards certain new surface structures of bacteria or viruses. This is why we refer to an acquired immune system.
The acquired immune system however needs to be regulated to where an immune response is actually meant to be stimulated or not. The cells of the inherent immune system take over this function with dendritic cells leading the way. They recognize dangers to the organism through immunosensory receptors and activate T cells or induce tolerance. We now recognize both the receptors of the inherent immune system and the receptors of T and B cells with antibodies as components of the immunosensory system, since all receptors are highly specialized in recognizing threats and damages.
MEDICA.de: What approaches arise from this to treat diseases?
Hartmann: Sterile inflammatory responses play an important role with certain widespread diseases such as atherosclerosis, neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease or articular gout. A sterile inflammatory response is triggered in all these diseases. There are also different congenital sterile inflammatory diseases that often turn serious, for instance in the case of Muckle-Wells syndrome. These diseases can be treated well today, because we now understand the molecular mechanisms that are responsible for the overstimulation of the immune system by the body’s own molecules. By blocking the mechanisms that are involved in the inflammatory process, today we are able to balance the immunosensory system again and thus largely cure the inflammatory disease.