Immune Functions of the Skin

Clin Dermatol. Jul-Aug 2011;29(4):360-76. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2011.01.006.


The skin, the body's largest organ, helps to secure the integrity of the host and, at the same time, allows the individual to communicate with the outside world. This finely tuned balance between protection from harmful pathogens (mostly microorganisms) and bidirectional signal exchange is provided by a network of structural, cellular, and molecular elements that are collectively referred to as the skin barrier. This "gateway" has a physical, chemical, and immunologic component. The role of the latter is to elicit a powerful defense reaction in the case of danger and, at the same time, to prevent such a reaction against innocuous substances. Immune responses originating in the skin are mounted and executed by cells and molecules of the innate or the adaptive immune system. Innate reactions are typically rapid, poorly discriminating, and do not exhibit memory. Adaptive responses, in contrast, show a high degree of specificity as well as memory but need a protracted time for their development. As a consequence, innate and adaptive responses are consecutive events influencing each other. In fact, we now know that the type and magnitude of the innate reactions govern and often determine the quality and quantity of adaptive responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity
  • Animals
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Eosinophils / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Keratinocytes / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Mast Cells / immunology
  • Mice
  • Phagocytes / immunology
  • Skin / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology