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Autoimmune condition as ?collective punishment??

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#1 mikanaimark



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Posted 12 August 2018 - 12:30 PM

Hello, my question is rather unusual:

The immune system is so sophisticated, “byzantine”,  and there seem to be no generalizing  theory to structure our knowledge about it. However, in most contemporary textbooks and papers, we see one informal and implicit  generalization – which is the “personification” of cells, and visualization of complex systems as an organized and motivated “societies” of cells, (not unlike human societies or agencies.)

E.g., tumor cells are imagined as motivated beings,  with their purpose to take advantage of other cells and resources of the body, in order to grow and proliferate. They even reveal a sort of “intelligence” – as they seem to invent new strategies to bypass immune responses and even recruit immune cells for their own ends, by certain cytokine signals, etc. (one can hardly believe that this can be explained by random mutations only). On the other hand, the immune system is also imagined as an organized polity,  (not unlike police of a state) also inventing  strategies, motivated to block those illicit activities .


Can we formalize this informal analogy and make it rigorous? Can we isolate the working part of it, by some abstraction?  Can this “personification theory” have any predictive power?  For instance, in human society we sometimes see the cases of “collective punishment”, or “collective suppression” – when a harmful activity is conducted by unknown persons, hidden among a certain social group, (while the rest of the group is harmless and useful for society) then the state police (or similar agency) may suppress and punish the group as a whole. And under some conditions this is a justifiable strategy,  until the guilty individuals were detected.  So, we predict a similar phenomenon within human body:  if harmful activity cannot be pinned down to individual cells with absolute certainty, then immune system must suppress the whole surrounding area or the whole tissue.


And my question is – could some autoimmune conditions be explained by this scenario?  I.e., are there any indications towards immune system attacking a normal tissue because in fact not all of the tissue is normal, but some of the cells hidden among it are doing something illicit, not yet detectable by medical tests?  Please refer me to any papers that may deal with this question!

Some simple cases of such “collective suppression” are clearly visible – e.g. basophils and eosinophils killing healthy cells around a large parasite or a splinter of wood under the skin, reducing both friend and foe to pus; or gamma interferon suppressing protein synthesis and division in healthy uninfected cells, just on the reason that virus infected cells were detected somewhere in vicinity, in order to reduce the probability of virus proliferation. 

Sometimes, indeed, a correlation between autoimmune disorder and malignant transformations of the target tissue is observed. E.g. between SAA  and bone marrow cancers, leucosis.  In other cases, the causes  behind autoimmune condition look too mechanical and simple for any social analogy.


Please advice and refer me to any relevant papers and books, Thanks in advance!

Edited by mikanaimark, 12 August 2018 - 12:32 PM.

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