In addition to an innate immune system that battles pathogens in a nonspecific fashion, higher organisms, such as humans, possess an adaptive immune system to combat diverse (and evolving) microbial pathogens. Remarkably, the adaptive immune system mounts pathogen-specific responses, which can be recalled upon reinfection with the same pathogen. It is difficult to see how the adaptive immune system can be preprogrammed to respond specifically to a vast and unknown set of pathogens. Although major advances have been made in understanding pertinent molecular and cellular phenomena, the precise principles that govern many aspects of an immune response are largely unknown. We discuss complementary approaches from statistical mechanics and cell biology that can shed light on how key components of the adaptive immune system, T cells, develop to enable pathogen-specific responses against many diverse pathogens. The mechanistic understanding that emerges has implications for how host genetics may influence the development of T cells with differing responses to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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