Innate immunology focuses on the immune system’s nonspecific defenses. These defenses include chemicals that occur in the blood, physical barriers and cells that are created to attack foreign substances. The study of this area helps researchers determine how quickly the body responds to antigen exposures.
The innate and adaptive immune systems work toward the same goal of protecting the body from foreign substances, but how they accomplish this goal differs. The innate immune system is ready to defend from the moment that exposure occurs, but the adaptive immune system takes more time to respond — it has to adapt. Innate immunology has shown that it is the adaptive immune system that defends against the specific antigen that triggered the response; the innate immune system is nonspecific because it reacts to all antigens equally. The innate immune system does not remember antigens to which it has been previously exposed.
Although innate immunology studies the innate immune system, it must also study how the innate and adaptive systems work together. There are many components of one that influence the components of the other. For example, if the adaptive immune system discovers an organism that it previously encountered, it will work more rapidly to destroy it without taking as much time to adapt, but if there is an additional organism or infection that is not recognized, the innate immune system will already be defending when the adaptive system kicks in. At the same time, when the innate immune system creates a cellular defense, the adaptive system responds accordingly. The innate system reacts first, however, because the adaptive system needs more time to recognize and respond.
Through innate immunology, research has shown that there are several elements of the innate system. Anatomical barriers are the first defenses and are physical, like the skin. If the anatomical barriers are damaged, infection starts; defenses include inflammation. Macrophages and natural killer cells provide part of the cellular barriers.
By learning about how the immune system works to fight infection, researchers contribute important biomedical information. With the details learned about the innate system, it is also learned how the body will respond to specific organisms. This helps determine how effective medications can be and when they are needed to boost the body’s natural responses.