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  • Immune Disorders

  • Immune Disorders

    The body's immune system is designed to selectively attack foreign particles (antigens) that may be detrimental to the person's health. Symptoms accompanying illnesses (e.g., fever, swelling) are usually the effect of the immune system correctly performing its function. Sometimes, problems may arise with the system.

    Immune deficiency has become well known through the AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) epidemic. These are disorders involving the reduction in the immune defense mechanism. In the case of AIDS, infected T cells, a component of the immune system, are being cleared to prevent the spread of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Unfortunately, this results in the progressive destruction of the immune system itself.

    Autoimmune disorders involve the immune system incorrectly recognizing a component of the "self" as a foreign antigen. Multiple sclerosis is the effect of antibodies directed against the myelin lining of nerve cells. Although generally classified as an endocrinological or metabolic disorder, one form of type II diabetes has been discovered to be linked to an autoimmune dysfunction.

    Autoimmune Disorders

    The bone marrow and thymus are parts of the body where cells of the immune system are carefully selected. This process permits the propagation of immune cells that can detect a wide variety of foreign particles, while ignoring "self" compounds. When this selectivity is compromised, the immune system can incorrectly destroy compounds of the body it was designed to protect. This leads to an array of autoimmune disorders.

    Myasthenia Gravis

    Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disorder where antibodies cross-react with acetylcholine receptors of the neuromuscular junction, thus contributing to progressive muscle denervation and weakness. Cross-reactivity may be induced by a thymic hyperplasia.

    Immune Deficiency

    Immune deficiency involves a reduced ability of the immune system to function. This may arise from a reduction in components of the immune system. Irradiation can destroy stem cells that give rise to the B and T cells that comprise the immune system. Metabolic disorders, such as adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency, may prevent the replication of T cells as well. A very well-known disease, AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), also causes immune deficiency. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that leads to AIDS, reproduces and infects helper T cells, a component of the immune system. The immune system selectively destroys these infected cells. This is a form of self-destruction that eventually leads to an inability of the immune system to function.


    As the name implies, the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a disease that involves a compromised immune system. This disease is acquired through infected bodily fluids, commonly through sexual or intravenous (IV) transmission. The immune deficiency leads to an increased susceptibility to secondary infections. The virus that causes AIDS is HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).

    Disease Progression

    AIDS does not immediately occur after infection with HIV. The incubation time may last ten years before an infected patient is clinically diagnosed with AIDS. This is characterized by a helper T cell (CD4+) count below 200 cells/ml.

    After infection with HIV, the body's T cell counts dip, while the virus loads increase. Soon thereafter, the T cell counts slightly rebound and the levels of circulating virus dramatically drop. At this stage of clinical latency, CD4+ T cells progressively decline in number. The infected patient possesses no symptoms and cannot be distinguished from healthy individuals without blood tests performed.

    After an average of ten years in clinical latency, the CD4+ T cells drop below a threshold and the patient is declared to have AIDS. This occurs regardless of symptoms expressed. Virus levels rebound and patient prognosis eventually leads to death.


    The early forms of treatment included AZT, a drug that inhibits the action of a viral enzyme called reverse transcriptase. Increased drug resistance has led to alternative therapies against HIV.

    The most popular form of therapy nowadays is HAART (Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy), which is a combination of antiviral drugs that target different viral enzymes implicated in the HIV replication cycle. HAART has been demonstrated to reduce viral burden below levels of detection by conventional methods. Unfortunately, studies have also revealed that interruption of therapy results in a return of previous plasma viral levels. This indicates that current treatment methodologies are not yet able to clear HIV from the body, but to suppress its replication.

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