Innate immunity and the new forward genetics

Best Pract Res Clin Haematol. 2016 Dec;29(4):379-387. doi: 10.1016/j.beha.2016.10.018. Epub 2016 Oct 21.


As it is a hard-wired system for responses to microbes, innate immunity is particularly susceptible to classical genetic analysis. Mutations led the way to the discovery of many of the molecular elements of innate immune sensing and signaling pathways. In turn, the need for a faster way to find the molecular causes of mutation-induced phenotypes triggered a huge transformation in forward genetics. During the 1980s and 1990s, many heritable phenotypes were ascribed to mutations through positional cloning. In mice, this required three steps. First, a genetic mapping step was used to show that a given phenotype emanated from a circumscribed region of the genome. Second, a physical mapping step was undertaken, in which all of the region was cloned and its gene content determined. Finally, a concerted search for the mutation was performed. Such projects usually lasted for several years, but could produce breakthroughs in our understanding of biological processes. Publication of the annotated mouse genome sequence in 2002 made physical mapping unnecessary. More recently we devised a new technology for automated genetic mapping, which eliminated both genetic mapping and the search for mutations among candidate genes. The cause of phenotype can now be determined instantaneously. We have created more than 100,000 coding/splicing mutations. And by screening for defects of innate and adaptive immunity we have discovered many "new" proteins needed for innate immune function.

Keywords: Forward genetics; Genetic mapping; Innate immunity; N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea; Toll-like receptor.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromosome Mapping*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics*
  • Mutation*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*
  • Signal Transduction / immunology