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The Phagocyte, Metchnikoff, and the Foundation of Immunology

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  • Authors: Giuseppe Teti1, Carmelo Biondo2, Concetta Beninati3
  • Editor: Siamon Gordon4
  • VIEW AFFILIATIONS HIDE AFFILIATIONS
    Affiliations: 1: Metchnikoff Laboratory, Department of Pediatric, Gynecological, Microbiological and Biomedical Sciences, University of Messina, Messina, Italy; 2: Metchnikoff Laboratory, Department of Pediatric, Gynecological, Microbiological and Biomedical Sciences, University of Messina, Messina, Italy; 3: Metchnikoff Laboratory, Department of Pediatric, Gynecological, Microbiological and Biomedical Sciences, University of Messina, Messina, Italy; 4: Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom
  • Source: microbiolspec April 2016 vol. 4 no. 2 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.MCHD-0009-2015
  • Received 14 May 2015 Accepted 17 July 2015 Published 22 April 2016
  • Giuseppe Teti, gteti@unime.it
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  • Abstract:

    Since the ability of some cells to engulf particulate material was observed before Metchnikoff, he did not “discover” phagocytosis, as is sometimes mentioned in textbooks. Rather, he assigned to particle internalization the role of defending the host against noxious stimuli, which represented a new function relative to the previously recognized task of intracellular digestion. With this proposal, Metchnikoff built the conceptual framework within which immunity could finally be seen as an active host function triggered by noxious stimuli. In this sense, Metchnikoff can be rightly regarded as the father of all immunological sciences and not only of innate immunity or myeloid cell biology. Moreover, the recognition properties of his phagocyte fit surprisingly well with recent discoveries and modern models of immune sensing. For example, rather than assigning to immune recognition exclusively the function of eliminating nonself components (as others did after him), Metchnikoff viewed phagocytes as homeostatic agents capable of monitoring the internal environment and promoting tissue remodeling, thereby continuously defining the identity of the organism. No doubt, Metchnikoff’s life and creativity can provide, still today, a rich source of inspiration.

  • Citation: Teti G, Biondo C, Beninati C. 2016. The Phagocyte, Metchnikoff, and the Foundation of Immunology. Microbiol Spectrum 4(2):MCHD-0009-2015. doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.MCHD-0009-2015.

Key Concept Ranking

Innate Immune System
0.6115988
White Blood Cells
0.54470587
Immune Systems
0.5318197
Toll-Like Receptor 4
0.5086539
Toll-Like Receptor 2
0.50485235
0.6115988

References

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19. Jungeblut CW, Berlot JA. 1926. The role of the reticulo-endothelial system in immunity. I. The role of the reticulo-endothelial system in the production of diphtheria antitoxin. J Exp Med 43:613–622. [PubMed][CrossRef]
20. Roberts EF. 1929. The reticulo-endothelial system and antibody production. I. The appearance of antibody in the circulation. J Immunol 16:137–149.
21. Cannon P, Baer R, Sullivan TL, Webster JR. 1929. The influence of blockade of the reticulo-endothelial system in the formation of antibodies. J Immunol 17:441–463.
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23. Siegmund H. 1922. Speicherung Dutch reticuloendothelien, cellulite Reaktion und Immunitat. Klin Wehnschr 1:2566–2567. [CrossRef]
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25. Metchnikoff E. 2000. The struggle for existence between parts of the animal organism, p 207–216. In Gourko H, Williamson DI, Tauber AI (ed), The Evolutionary Biology Papers of Elie Metchnikoff. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
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32. Pollard JW. 2009. Trophic macrophages in development and disease. Nat Rev Immunol 9:259–270. [PubMed][CrossRef]
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39. Ajuwon KM, Spurlock ME. 2005. Palmitate activates the NF-κB transcription factor and induces IL-6 and TNFα expression in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. J Nutr 135:1841–1846. [PubMed]
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42. Chung S, Lapoint K, Martinez K, Kennedy A, Boysen Sandberg M, McIntosh MK. 2006. Preadipocytes mediate lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammation and insulin resistance in primary cultures of newly differentiated human adipocytes. Endocrinology 147:5340–5351. [PubMed][CrossRef]
43. Levine B, Mizushima N, Virgin HW. 2011. Autophagy in immunity and inflammation. Nature 469:323–335. [PubMed][CrossRef]
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2016-04-22
2017-11-20

Abstract:

Since the ability of some cells to engulf particulate material was observed before Metchnikoff, he did not “discover” phagocytosis, as is sometimes mentioned in textbooks. Rather, he assigned to particle internalization the role of defending the host against noxious stimuli, which represented a new function relative to the previously recognized task of intracellular digestion. With this proposal, Metchnikoff built the conceptual framework within which immunity could finally be seen as an active host function triggered by noxious stimuli. In this sense, Metchnikoff can be rightly regarded as the father of all immunological sciences and not only of innate immunity or myeloid cell biology. Moreover, the recognition properties of his phagocyte fit surprisingly well with recent discoveries and modern models of immune sensing. For example, rather than assigning to immune recognition exclusively the function of eliminating nonself components (as others did after him), Metchnikoff viewed phagocytes as homeostatic agents capable of monitoring the internal environment and promoting tissue remodeling, thereby continuously defining the identity of the organism. No doubt, Metchnikoff’s life and creativity can provide, still today, a rich source of inspiration.

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Figures

Image of FIGURE 1
FIGURE 1

Metchnikoff’s parents. Reproduced from reference 10 , with permission.

Source: microbiolspec April 2016 vol. 4 no. 2 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.MCHD-0009-2015
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Image of FIGURE 2
FIGURE 2

Olga Metchnikoff. Reproduced from reference 10 , with permission.

Source: microbiolspec April 2016 vol. 4 no. 2 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.MCHD-0009-2015
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Image of FIGURE 3
FIGURE 3

Elie and Olga Metchnikoff. Reproduced from reference 15 , with permission.

Source: microbiolspec April 2016 vol. 4 no. 2 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.MCHD-0009-2015
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Image of FIGURE 4
FIGURE 4

Columnar cells from a flatworm showing intracellular digestion in planariae. Reproduced from reference 44 .

Source: microbiolspec April 2016 vol. 4 no. 2 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.MCHD-0009-2015
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Image of FIGURE 5
FIGURE 5

Elie Metchnikoff at 46 years of age. Reproduced from reference 10 , with permission.

Source: microbiolspec April 2016 vol. 4 no. 2 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.MCHD-0009-2015
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Image of FIGURE 6
FIGURE 6

Elie Metchnikoff and Alexandre Besredka, Institut Pasteur, 1914. Besredka was a medical doctor from Odessa who collaborated with Metchnikoff at the Institut Pasteur from 1897. Reproduced from reference 10 , with permission.

Source: microbiolspec April 2016 vol. 4 no. 2 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.MCHD-0009-2015
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Image of FIGURE 7
FIGURE 7

Elie Metchnikoff portrait painted by Olga. Reproduced from reference 15 .

Source: microbiolspec April 2016 vol. 4 no. 2 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.MCHD-0009-2015
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Image of FIGURE 8
FIGURE 8

Robert Koch visiting the Institut Pasteur, accompanied by Elie Metchnikoff (1904). Reproduced from reference 15 , with permission.

Source: microbiolspec April 2016 vol. 4 no. 2 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.MCHD-0009-2015
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Image of FIGURE 9
FIGURE 9

Milestones in the life of Elie Metchnikoff.

Source: microbiolspec April 2016 vol. 4 no. 2 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.MCHD-0009-2015
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