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The immune system is the body's major defence against infection. However, an effective response against micro-organisms requires means to detect them. Thus a major issue in immunology is the study of how the body brings about this self- versus non-self discrimination or, as some would suggest, harmful versus non-harmful discrimination. This issue involves almost all the regulatory mechanisms within the immune system. An understanding of the principles underlying the regulation of the immune system is the major goal of research within immunology at Cambridge. Such principles can be harnessed to achieve improvements in the control of infectious diseases and in the therapy of autoimmune disorders and certain cancers. The Division of Immunology has major research programmes in autoimmune disease, in immune cell signalling and differentiation, antigen processing and presentation, the molecular genetics of the MHC and NK receptor gene clusters and therapeutic immunology. The Part II course in immunology reflects these research interests, as well as providing an up-to-date overview of the subject.

The Course

The course can be broadly divided into the following sections:

Molecules of the immune system: Structure and genetics of immunoglobulin, T cell receptor and MHC molecules. The biology of cytokines and their receptors. Lymphocyte activation and cell signalling.

Cells and cell interactions in the immune response: The origin and function of T cells, B cells, natural killer cells, antigen presenting cells, e.g. macrophages and dendritic cells and other haemopoietic cells. How these cells co-operate to mediate key immunological functions, such as antibody production and T cell activation. The cell biology of antigen presentation. Lymphoid architecture and lymphocyte recirculation.

Effector functions, immunity and transplantation: The molecules and cells involved in the recognition and killing of parasites, micro-organisms and virus infected cells. These include activation of the complement system, interaction of immune system (antibody molecules and T cell factors) with cells of the innate immune system, eg macrophages, neutrophils and eosinophils. The action of cytotoxic T cells and natural killer cells. How these effector functions can be harnessed by immunisation. Basic principles of transplantation biology and therapeutic approaches to control rejection.

Tolerance and autoimmune disease: The mechanism of tolerance induction; significance of central and peripheral tolerance. The key role of the thymus in T cell ontogony and self-/nonself-discrimination. How tolerance breaks down to produce autoimmune disease. The nature of these disease states. The immunobiology of materno-feotal interactions Therapeutic strategies to control autoimmune disease, including therapeutic antibodies.


This should be prepared according to the specific details given by the Faculty Board.

Example Dissertation Titles:

  • Current perspectives on the role of HLA-B27 in the pathogenesis of Ankylosing Spondylitis
  • Tumour evasion of the MHC Class I antigen presentation pathway: a role for DRiPs?
  • What is Foxp3 and how does it function?
  • How does aire influence immunological tolerance
  • How does Hepatitis C virus persist in the immunocompetent host?
  • High dose Intravenous Immunoglobulin; how does it work?
  • The development, maintenance and function of Foxp3 + regulatory T cells.
  • Is the adaptive immune system present in jawless vertebrates analogous to that found in jawed vertebrates?
  • How are foetal trophoblast cells adapted to interact with the maternal immune system?
  • The role of MHC in mating choice and reproduction.
  • Would we have been better off without an Adaptive Immune System?
  • Discuss the molecular strategies by which viruses evade MHC I antigen presentation
  • HLA-C and kir in disease