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INTRODUCTION

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CASE STUDY

A 30-year-old woman has one living child, age 6. Her child and her husband are Rh positive and she is Rho(D) and Du negative. She is now in her ninth month of pregnancy and is in the labor room having frequent contractions. Her Rh antibody test taken earlier in the pregnancy was negative. What immunotherapy is appropriate for this patient? When and how should it be administered?

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Agents that suppress the immune system play an important role in preventing the rejection of organ or tissue grafts and in the treatment of certain diseases that arise from dysregulation of the immune response. While precise details of the mechanisms of action of a number of these agents are still obscure, knowledge of the elements of the immune system is useful in understanding their effects. Agents that augment the immune response or selectively alter the balance of various components of the immune system are also becoming important in the management of certain diseases such as cancer, AIDS, and autoimmune or inflammatory diseases. A growing number of other conditions (infections, cardiovascular diseases, organ transplantation) may also be candidates for immune manipulation.

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ELEMENTS OF THE IMMUNE SYSTEM

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NORMAL IMMUNE RESPONSES

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The immune system has evolved to protect the host from invading pathogens and to eliminate disease. When functioning at its best, the immune system is exquisitely responsive to invading pathogens while retaining the capacity to recognize self tissues and antigens to which it is tolerant. Protection from infection and disease is provided by the collaborative efforts of the innate and adaptive immune systems.

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The Innate Immune System
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The innate immune system is the first line of defense against invading pathogens (eg, bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites) and consists of mechanical, biochemical, and cellular components. Mechanical components include skin/epidermis and mucus; biochemical components include antimicrobial peptides and proteins (eg, defensins), complement, enzymes (eg, lysozyme, acid hydrolases), interferons, acidic pH, and free radicals (eg, hydrogen peroxide, superoxide anions); cellular components include neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages, natural killer (NK), and natural killer-T (NKT) cells. Unlike adaptive immunity, the innate immune response exists prior to infection, is not enhanced by repeated infection, and is generally not antigen-specific. An intact skin or mucosa is the first barrier to infection. When this barrier is breached, an immediate innate immune response, referred to as “inflammation” is provoked that ultimately leads to destruction of the pathogen. The process of pathogen destruction can be accomplished, for example, by biochemical components such as lysozyme (which breaks down bacterial peptidoglycan cell walls) and complement activation. Complement components (Figure 55–1) enhance macrophage and neutrophil phagocytosis by acting as opsonins (C3b) and chemoattractants (C3a, C5a), which recruit immune cells from the bloodstream to the site of infection. The activation of complement eventually leads to pathogen lysis via the generation of a membrane attack complex ...

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