Here, we outline an overview of the mammalian immune system that updates and extends the classical clonal selection paradigm. Rather than focusing on strict self-not-self discrimination, we propose that the system orchestrates variable inflammatory responses that maintain the body and its symbiosis with the microbiome while eliminating the threat from pathogenic infectious agents and from tumors. The paper makes four points:
1) The immune system classifies healthy and pathologic states of the body—including both self and foreign elements—by deploying individual lymphocytes as cellular computing machines; immune cells transform input signals from the body into an output of specific immune reactions.
2) Rather than independent clonal responses, groups of individually activated immune-system cells co-react in lymphoid organs to make collective decisions through a type of self-organizing swarm intelligence or crowd wisdom.
3) Collective choices by swarms of immune cells, like those of schools of fish, are modified by relatively small numbers of individual regulators responding to shifting conditions—such collective inflammatory responses are dynamically responsive.
4) Self-reactive autoantibody and T-cell receptor (TCR) repertoires shared by healthy individuals function in a biological version of experience-based supervised machine learning. Immune system decisions are primed by formative experience with training sets of self-antigens encountered during lymphocyte development; these initially trained T cell and B cell repertoires form a Wellness Profile that then guides immune responses to test sets of antigens encountered later. This experience-based machine learning strategy is analogous to that deployed by supervised machine-learning algorithms.
We propose experiments to test these ideas. This overview of the immune system bears clinical implications for monitoring wellness and for treating autoimmune disease, cancer, and allograft reactions.