The Symmetrical Network Theory of Adaptive Immunity
Even as the brain is a vast network of neurons, that possesses a sense of self, and the ability to remember and learn from experience, so is the immune system a network of cells and antibodies that also have a sense of self, and the ability to remember and learn from experience.
The immune network theory states that the “recognizers” of the immune system (the lymphocytes and antibodies) not only recognize foreign particles, but also recognize and interact with each other, as parts of a network with memory. This has important implications for the medical issues of autoimmunity and inflammation.
Network interactions in the immune system have been validated in numerous peer reviewed journals, however they are an aspect of the system that most of the field of immunology is not paying attention to currently, largely due to the IJ paradox of the early 1980s. This paradox was sufficiently central to network theory, that immunologists at the time left the network paradigm to focus on the details of the system.
Dr. Geoffrey W. Hoffmann was able to solve the IJ paradox, and published its resolution in a peer reviewed journal in 1994, however by then, to most immunologists, network theory was little more than a paragraph in their textbooks, a forgotten paradigm of immunology.
History of Immune Network Theory
The network theory of the immune system is not currently the predominant paradigm of immunology. The framework emerged in the mid 1970’s. Later, in 1984, a Danish immunologist by the name of Dr. Niels Kaj Jerne, was awarded the Nobel Prize for his immune network hypothesis. He was the first to propose that the antibodies of the system not only recognized foreign antigens, but also recognized and interacted with each other, as part of a network.
Dr. Jerne had realized that, just as the neural network could remember, and learn from experience, so could the immune system, a network, of cells and antibodies, also remember and learn from experience. And just as the neural network possesses the ability to differentiate between self and other, so does the immune system possess this ability to distinguish between what is self, or part of the body, and what is foreign to the body.
However, in the early 1980s, confusion arose around a protein called IJ, which is part of the central regulating unit of the immune system in the context of network theory. This is to say that, within the network framework, IJ is a major part of the central regulating unit of the system.
Immunologists had mapped IJ to a precise point in the genome but they soon found that the gene to express IJ was missing from the sequence. This came to be known as the IJ paradox. This problem regarding IJ baffled immunologists at the time, to the extent that they threw out the baby with the bathwater. This is to say, they abandoned the whole theory -and a very large amount of data- with the paradox. They did this because of the significant confusion around IJ which, as a central component of the system, is crucial for the theory to make sense. Almost all immunologists from then onward, chose to shift their focus toward the details of the system, as opposed to developing this framework for understanding the system as a whole.
In contrast, Network Immunology’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Geoffrey Hoffmann, was captivated by this fundamental riddle, and turned his focus towards resolving IJ. In 1994 he published the solution to the IJ paradox in a peer reviewed journal. However, by then, virtually the entire field of immunology had moved away from network theory, and the attempt to understand the larger picture of immune system regulation. They had moved on, to focus on the details of the system. Hoffmann, in contrast, continued to develop the immune network theory, applying his background in physics, and mathematical modeling.
An extension to the theory eventually led to a novel technology for the stabilization of the immune system. Today, Network Immunology is the only company in the world, that represents the Network Theory of the immune system, and technologies emerging from it. Details of the symmetrical immune network theory can be found in the monograph Immune Network Theory, by Geoffrey W. Hoffmann (2008). Further theoretical and experimental progress was made in 2010 and at the end of 2012.