Evolution of Innate Immunity: Clues from Invertebrates via Fish to Mammals.
Host responses against invading pathogens are basic physiological reactions of all living organisms. Since the appearance of the first eukaryotic cells, a series of defense mechanisms have evolved in order to secure cellular integrity, homeostasis, and survival of the host. Invertebrates, ranging from protozoans to metazoans, possess cellular receptors, which bind to foreign elements and differentiate self from non-self. This ability is in multicellular animals associated with presence of phagocytes, bearing different names (amebocytes, hemocytes, coelomocytes) in various groups including animal sponges, worms, cnidarians, mollusks, crustaceans, chelicerates, insects, and echinoderms (sea stars and urchins). Basically, these cells have a macrophage-like appearance and function and the repair and/or fight functions associated with these cells are prominent even at the earliest evolutionary stage. The cells possess pathogen recognition receptors recognizing pathogen-associated molecular patterns, which are well-conserved molecular structures expressed by various pathogens (virus, bacteria, fungi, protozoans, helminths). Scavenger receptors, Toll-like receptors, and Nod-like receptors (NLRs) are prominent representatives within this group of host receptors. Following receptor-ligand binding, signal transduction initiates a complex cascade of cellular reactions, which lead to production of one or more of a wide array of effector molecules. Cytokines take part in this orchestration of responses even in lower invertebrates, which eventually may result in elimination or inactivation of the intruder. Important innate effector molecules are oxygen and nitrogen species, antimicrobial peptides, lectins, fibrinogen-related peptides, leucine rich repeats (LRRs), pentraxins, and complement-related proteins. Echinoderms represent the most developed invertebrates and the bridge leading to the primitive chordates, cephalochordates, and urochordates, in which many autologous genes and functions from their ancestors can be found. They exhibit numerous variants of innate recognition and effector molecules, which allow fast and innate responses toward diverse pathogens despite lack of adaptive responses. The primitive vertebrates (agnathans also termed jawless fish) were the first to supplement innate responses with adaptive elements. Thus hagfish and lampreys use LRRs as variable lymphocyte receptors, whereas higher vertebrates [cartilaginous and bony fishes (jawed fish), amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals] developed the major histocompatibility complex, T-cell receptors, and B-cell receptors (immunoglobulins) as additional adaptive weaponry to assist innate responses. Extensive cytokine networks are recognized in fish, but related signal molecules can be traced among invertebrates. The high specificity, antibody maturation, immunological memory, and secondary responses of adaptive immunity were so successful that it allowed higher vertebrates to reduce the number of variants of the innate molecules originating from both invertebrates and lower vertebrates. Nonetheless, vertebrates combine the two arms in an intricate inter-dependent network. Organisms at all developmental stages have, in order to survive, applied available genes and functions of which some may have been lost or may have changed function through evolution. The molecular mechanisms involved in evolution of immune molecules, might apart from simple base substitutions be as diverse as gene duplication, deletions, alternative splicing, gene recombination, domain shuffling, retrotransposition, and gene conversion. Further, variable regulation of gene expression may have played a role.