The idiotypic network theory


Jerne had a talent to present his thoughts in a way that made them appear simple and straightforward. As a sworn reductionist, he looked at the immune system as consisting of lymphocytes and antibodies and began each of his lectures and nearly all of his papers with these numbers: The human immune system consists of 1012 lymphocytes and 1020 soluble antibody molecules. The number of different antibodies, i.e. the diversity of combining sites which enables the immune system to recognize and discriminate foreign antigens, is not exactly known but was estimated by Jerne to be in the order of five million. The number of each individual antibody molecule, calculated by dividing the total number of antibody molecules by the estimated number of different combining sites, would then be about 2 × 1013. About 2% of the components of the immune system are turned over every day, i.e. the immune system produces about 2 × 1010 new lymphocytes and 2 × 1018 new antibody molecules every day. The system is thus a dynamic one and requires regulation. For the mouse, the major model animal in experimental immunology, numbers had to be divided by a factor of 3,000, except for the diversity of antibody combining sites which might be of similar size as that of man.


Network Theory Antibody Molecule Zone Tolerance Internal Image Idiotypic Network 
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Further reading

  1. Jerne NK (1985) The generative grammar of the immune system. EMBO J 4: 847–852PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Jerne NK (1984) Idiotypic networks and other preconceived ideas. Immunol Rev 79: 5–24PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Jerne NK, Roland J, Cazenave PA (1982) Recurrent idiotopes and internal images. EMBO J 1: 243–247PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Jerne NK (1977) The common sense of immunology. Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biol 41: 1PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Jerne NK (1974) Clonal selection in a lymphocyte network. Soc Gen Physiol Ser 29: 39–48PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Rajewsky K, Takemori T (1983) Genetics, expression, and function of idiotypes. Annu Rev Immunol 1: 569–607PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

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