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Immunological memory is a hallmark of the immune system. Evolution can teach us which effector arms of immunological memory are biologically relevant against which virus. Antibodies appear to be the critical protective mechanism against cytopathic viruses. Since these viruses cause cell damage and disease directly, particularly in the absence of an immune response, mothers protect their offspring during a critical immunoincompetent period (a consequence of MHC- restricted T cell recognition) by passive transfer of neutralizing antibodies. In contrast, CTL appear to be the crucial effector mechanism against noncytopathic viruses. Since MHC polymorphism has made vertical transmission of T cell memory impossible, immunoincompetent offspring are not, and need not be, protected against such noncytopathic viruses. During the primary response and again during secondary infection, the most important function of CTL is to eliminate noncytopathic viruses, which may otherwise cause lethal immunopathology. Increased precursor frequencies of B and T cells appear to remain in the host independent of antigen persistence. However, in order to protect against cytopathic viruses, memory B cells have to produce antibody to maintain protective elevated levels of antibody; B cell differentiation into plasma cells is driven by persisting antigen. Similarly, to protect against infection with a noncytopathic virus, CTL have to recirculate through peripheral organs. Activation and capacity to emigrate into solid tissues as well as cytolytic effector function are also dependent upon, and driven by, persisting antigen. Because no convincing evidence is available yet of the existence of identifiable B or T cells with specialized memory characteristics, the phenotype of immunological memory correlates best with antigen-driven activation of low frequency effector T cells and plasma cells.

Original publication




Journal article


Annu Rev Immunol

Publication Date





333 - 367


Animals, Humans, Immunologic Memory