When your immune system calls the shots

 Audio Symbol

Listen to Podcast (4 min. 13 sec.)
Click below to launch player


Download MP3
Podcast Help

Bali Pulendran, PhD:
When your immune system calls the shots

In humans, the immune system consists of two parallel systems working with one another to fend off invaders. One is the innate immune system, the other the adaptive immune system.

Immunologist Bali Pulendran, PhD, studies how those two systems work together to identify and respond to all kinds of intruders including pathogens, viruses and microbes. Pulendran is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Pathology at the Emory Vaccine Center and Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University. He and his colleagues use what they learn from their studies to figure out what mechanisms make some immunizations highly effective.

Pulendran says it’s the innate immune system’s job to recognize the first signs of infection—that is, the moment a pathogen enters the body. “In a sense they act as smoke detectors if you will,” says Pulendran. “Little alarms.”

And it’s the adaptive immune system that identifies what kind of pathogen has crossed the immune system’s threshold. In other words, the immune system can recognize nearly any antigen in the universe. What’s more, the adaptive immune system has a long memory.

“There’s immune memory,” says Pulendran. “And immune memory is the essence of vaccination. A few decades down the line if there are any re-exposures to that same virus, the immune system will respond much more quickly and rapidly to control the virus.” 

To hear Pulendran’s own words about immunology, use the player at the top of this page or subscribe to the podcast.