Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 125–158 | Cite as

On the Genesis of the Idiotypic Network Theory



The idiotypic network theory (INT) was conceived by the Danish immunologist Niels Kaj Jerne in 1973/1974. It proposes an overall view of the immune system as a network of lymphocytes and antibodies. The paper tries to offer a reconstruction of the genesis of the theory, now generally discarded and of mostly historical interest, first of all, by taking into account the context in which Jerne’s theoretical proposal was advanced. It is argued the theory challenged, in a sense, the supremacy of the clonal selection theory (CST), this being regarded as the predominant paradigm in the immunological scenario. As CST found shortcomings in explaining certain phenomena, anomalies, one could view INT as a competing paradigm claiming to be able to make sense of such phenomena in its own conceptual framework. After a summary outline of the historical background and some relevant terminological elucidations, a narrative of the various phases of elaboration of the theory is proposed, up to its official public presentation.


Immunobiology Immunology Idiotype Network Clonal selection Niels Kaj Jerne 


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I wish to thank Dr. Andrea Grignolio, who read part of the manuscript and offered very valuable advice. I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers and the editor, who helped greatly improve the paper. Prof. Jean Lindenmann is gratefully acknowledged for providing me with and allowing to quote copy of his correspondence with Jerne.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of PisaPisaItaly

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