Int J Biol Sci 2011; 7(3):261-268. doi:10.7150/ijbs.7.261 This issue


Innate Immunity and the Pathogenicity of Inhaled Microbial Particles

C. Henrik J. Wolff

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH), Biological Mechanisms and the Prevention of Work related Diseases

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Wolff CHJ. Innate Immunity and the Pathogenicity of Inhaled Microbial Particles. Int J Biol Sci 2011; 7(3):261-268. doi:10.7150/ijbs.7.261. Available from

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Non-infectious inhaled microbial particles can cause illness by triggering an inappropriate immunological response. From the pathogenic point of view these illnesses can be seen to be related to on one hand autoimmune diseases and on the other infectious diseases.

In this review three such illnesses are discussed in some detail. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) is the best known of these illnesses and it has also been widely studied in animal models and clinically. In contrast to HP Pulmonary mycotoxicosis (PM) is not considered to involve immunological memory, it is an acute self-limiting condition is caused by an immediate "toxic" effect. Damp building related illness (DBRI) is a controversial and from a diagnostic point poorly defined entity that is however causing, or attributed to cause, much more morbidity than the two other diseases.

In the recent decade there has been a shift in the focus of immunology from the lymphocyte centered, adaptive immunity towards innate immunity. The archetypal cell in innate immunity is the macrophage although many other cell types participate. Innate immunity relies on a limited number of germline coded receptors for the recognition of pathogens and signs of cellular damage. The focus on innate immunity has opened new paths for the understanding of many chronic inflammatory diseases. The purpose of this review is to discuss the impact of some recent studies, that include aspects concerning innate immunity, on our understanding of the pathogenesis of inflammatory diseases associated with exposure to inhaled microbial matter.

Keywords: innate immunity, inflammasome, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, pulmonary mycotoxicosis, mold, damp building related inflammatory disease, sick building syndrome