Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 411–442 | Cite as

Immune Balance: The Development of the Idea and Its Applications

  • Bartlomiej SwiatczakEmail author


It has long been taken for granted that the immune system’s capacity to protect an individual from infection and disease depends on the power of the system to distinguish between self and nonself. However, accumulating data have undermined this fundamental concept. Evidence against the self/nonself discrimination model left researchers in need of a new overarching framework able to capture the immune system’s reactivity. Here, I highlight that along with the self/nonself model, another powerful representation of the immune system’s reactivity has been developed in the twentieth century immunology. According to this alternative view, the immune system is not a killer of nonself strangers but a peace-maker helping to establish harmony with the environment. The balance view of the system has never become part of the dominant paradigm. However, it is gaining more and more currency as new research develops. Advances in mucosal immunology confirm that instead of distinguishing between self and foreign the immune system reacts to microbial, chemical and self-induced alterations to produce responses that counterbalance effects of these changes.


Burnet Immune balance Immune equilibrium Immune self Metchnikoff Self/nonself recognition 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History of ScienceUniversity of Science and Technology of ChinaHefeiPeople’s Republic of China

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