I recently attended a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society lecture in which one of the lecturers indicated that there are fundamental differences between the adaptive immune systems of higher primates and other animals.

The Wikipedia article on adaptive immune system seems to indicate that mammals share very similar adaptive immune systems.

I understand that there are (minor) differences between the B cells and T cells (and other cells) of different species, and that two species can differ in their susceptibility to a particular kind of pathogen (virus, bacteria, whatever), depending on small differences in cell surface proteins, etc. I am not interested in these kinds of small differences.

Rather, I would like to know if there are any fundamental differences between the adaptive immune systems of humans (and other higher primates) as compared to other mammals. For instance, are there particular kinds of adaptive immune cells in primates that don't appear in other mammals. Or are there fundamentally different mechanisms (e.g. the mechanism of T-cells activating B-cells) or lymphatic system organs that are markedly different in higher primates as compared to other mammals.

In short, are there big differences in the immune system of higher primates that make them stand apart from the other mammals in the same dramatic way that thumbs and intelligence seem to separate them from other species?

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    $\begingroup$ When the lecturer said other animals, were they specifically referring to other mammals or did they just say other animals? If other animals that can mean everything from fish, jelly fish, sponges, corals, reptiles, birds, insects, worms, etc., so then yes there are differences. If they specifically said other mammals, then there may be subtle differences, but in research animals such as mice, it is very similar. They may have meant the constant regions of antibodies, as these are unique to the species and can actually be exploited in immune assays. $\endgroup$
    – AMR
    Jan 25, 2016 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ In fact, it is often referred to as the vertebrate immune system. This might help: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2388 $\endgroup$
    – AMR
    Jan 25, 2016 at 16:14

1 Answer 1


I am not aware of a discriminatory feature between primates and all other mammals. However, there are significant differences for some animals. For example, the anti bodies of camelids and sharks consist of the heavy chain only, or the antibodies of sea lampreys are not of the immunoglobulin protein family.

Those differences have been exploited for biotechnology.

consider this review: http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v23/n10/full/nbt1127.html


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