The innate arm of the immune system is generally viewed as primitive and non-specific and - in contrast to the adaptive immune arm - not to possess memory. However in plants and invertebrate animals that lack adaptive immunity, innate immunity will exhibit a prolonged enhanced functional state after adequate priming. A similar enhancement of function of the innate immunity has occasionally been described in vertebrates, including humans. Over the past few years we have studied this phenomenon in greater detail and we have coined the term 'Trained (innate) immunity' (TI). TI can be induced by a variety of stimuli, of which we have studied BCG and β-glucan in greater detail. The non-specific protective effects of BCG that have been observed in vaccination studies in the literature are probably due to TI. Monocytes and macrophages are among the main cells of the innate immune arm that can be trained. We have discovered that both BCG (via NOD2 signalling) and β-glucan (via dectin-1) induce epigenetic reprogramming, in particular stable changes in histone trimethylation at H3K4. These epigenetic changes lead to cellular activation, enhanced cytokine production and a change in the metabolic state of the cell with a shift from oxidative phosphorylation to aerobic glycolysis. TI is not only important for host defence and vaccine responses, but most probably also for diseases like atherosclerosis. Modulation of TI is a promising area for new treatments.
Keywords: BCG; Candida; Epigenetics; Innate immunity; Trained immunity; Vaccination.
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