The evolution of adaptive immunity

Annu Rev Immunol. 2006;24:497-518. doi: 10.1146/annurev.immunol.24.021605.090542.


Approximately 500 mya two types of recombinatorial adaptive immune systems appeared in vertebrates. Jawed vertebrates generate a diverse repertoire of B and T cell antigen receptors through the rearrangement of immunoglobulin V, D, and J gene fragments, whereas jawless fish assemble their variable lymphocyte receptors through recombinatorial usage of leucine-rich repeat (LRR) modular units. Invariant germ line-encoded, LRR-containing proteins are pivotal mediators of microbial recognition throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. Whereas the genomes of plants and deuterostome and chordate invertebrates harbor large arsenals of recognition receptors primarily encoding LRR-containing proteins, relatively few innate pattern recognition receptors suffice for survival of pathogen-infected nematodes, insects, and vertebrates. The appearance of a lymphocyte-based recombinatorial system of anticipatory immunity in the vertebrates may have been driven by a need to facilitate developmental and morphological plasticity in addition to the advantage conferred by the ability to recognize a larger portion of the antigenic world.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Immunity / genetics*
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Models, Immunological
  • Phylogeny
  • Receptors, Immunologic / chemistry
  • Receptors, Immunologic / genetics
  • Vertebrates / immunology


  • Receptors, Immunologic