Schulenburg H, Hoeppner M, Weiner J III, Bornberg-Bauer E
Specificity of the innate immune system and diversity of C-type lectin domain (CTLD) proteins in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans
Immunobiology 213(3-4):237-50, 2008

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Abstract

The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans has become an important model for the study of innate immunity. Its immune system is based on several signaling cascades, including a Toll-like receptor, three mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK), one transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β), the insulin-like receptor (ILR), and the programmed cell death (PCD) pathway. Furthermore, it also involves C-type lectin domain- (CTLD) containing proteins as well as several classes of antimicrobial effectors such as lysozymes. Almost all components of the nematode immune system have homologs in other organisms, including humans, and are therefore likely of ancient evolutionary origin. At the same time, most of them are part of a general stress response, suggesting that they only provide unspecific defense. In the current article, we re-evaluate this suggestion and explore the level of specificity in C. elegans innate immunity, i.e. the nematode's ability to mount a distinct defense response towards different pathogens. We draw particular attention to the CTLD proteins, which are abundant in the nematode genome (278 genes) and many of which show a pathogen-specific response during infection. Specificity may also be achieved through the differential activation of antimicrobial genes, distinct functions of the immunity signaling cascades as well as signal integration across pathways. Taken together, our evaluation reveals high potential for immune specificity in C. elegans that may enhance the nematode's ability to fight off pathogens.