Definition and General Characteristics of Tolerance

Tolerance is best defined as a state of antigen-specific immunologic unresponsiveness. This definition has several important implications: (a) When tolerance is experimentally induced it does not affect the immune response to antigens other than the one used to induce tolerance. This is a very important characteristic that differentiates tolerance from generalized immunosuppression, in which there is depression of the immune response to a wide array of different antigens. Tolerance may be transient or permanent, whereas immunosuppression is usually transient. (b) Tolerance must be established at the clonal level. In other words, if tolerance is antigen-specific it must involve the T- or a B-lymphocyte clone(s) specific for the antigen in question and not affect any other clones (von Boehmer and Kisielow 1990).

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