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Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

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Therapies with increasing specificity against pathogens follow the immune system's evolutionary course in maximizing host defence while minimizing self-harm. Nevertheless, even completely non-specific stressors, such as reactive molecular species, heat, nutrient and oxygen deprivation, and acidity can be used to preferentially harm pathogens. Strategic use of non-specific stressors requires exploiting differences in stress vulnerability between pathogens and hosts. Two basic vulnerabilities of pathogens are: (i) the inherent vulnerability to stress of growth and replication (more immediately crucial for pathogens than for host cells) and (ii) the degree of pathogen localization, permitting the host's use of locally and regionally intense stress. Each of the various types of non-specific stressors is present during severe infections at all levels of localization: (i) ultra-locally within phagolysosomes, (ii) locally at the infected site, (iii) regionally around the infected site and (iv) systemically as part of the acute-phase response. We propose that hosts strategically use a coordinated system of non-specific stressors at local, regional and systemic levels to preferentially harm the pathogens within. With the rising concern over emergence of resistance to specific therapies, we suggest more scrutiny of strategies using less specific therapies in pathogen control. Hosts' active use of multiple non-specific stressors is likely an evolutionarily basic defence whose retention underlies and supplements the well-recognized immune defences that directly target pathogens.


This article was published openly thanks to the University of Tennessee Open Publishing Support Fund.

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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