The complement system is among the evolutionary oldest 'players' of the immune system. It was discovered in 1896 by Jules Bordet as a heat-labile fraction of the serum responsible for the opsonisation and subsequent killing of bacteria. The decades between the 1920s and 1990s then marked the discovery and biochemical characterization of the proteins comprising the complement system. Today, complement is defined as a complex system consisting of more than 30 membrane-bound and soluble plasma proteins, which are activated in a cascade-like manner, very similarly to the caspase proteases and blood coagulation systems. Complement is engrained in the immunologist's mind as a serum-effective, quintessential part of innate immunity, vitally required for the detection and removal of pathogens or other dangerous entities. Three decades ago, this rather confined definition was challenged and then refined when it was shown that complement participates vitally in the induction and regulation of B cell responses, thus adaptive immunity. Similarly, research work published in more recent years supports an equally important role for the complement system in shaping T cell responses. Today, we are again facing paradigm shifts in the field: complement is actively involved in the negative control of T cell effector immune responses, and thus, by definition in immune homeostasis. Further, while serum complement activity is without doubt fundamental in the defence against invading pathogens, local immune cell-derived production of complement emerges as key mediator of complement's impact on adaptive immune responses. And finally, the impact of complement on metabolic pathways and the crosstalk between complement and other immune effector systems is likely more extensive than previously anticipated and is fertile ground for future discoveries. In this review, we will discuss these emerging new roles of complement, with a focus on Th1 cell biology.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Infection and Inflammation Research (ZIEL)