Immune Evasion: How Sneaky Pathogens Avoid Host Surveillance

Course Info

Course Number/Code: 7.34 (Spring 2004)
Course Title: Immune Evasion: How Sneaky Pathogens Avoid Host Surveillance
Course Level: Undergraduate
Offered By: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Department: Biology
Course Instructor(s): Dr. Dina Gould Halme
Course Introduction:
Syllabus Overview

To be successful, a pathogen must escape the many defenses of the mammalian immune system until it can replicate and spread to another host. A pathogen must prevent one of three stages of immune function: detection, activation, or effector function. Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV), which infects 90% of people living in urban settings, has at least three genes that act to prevent the detection of virally infected cells by CD8+ T cells. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) produces a protein that prevents the activation of CD4+T cells. Many gastric, colorectal and pancreatic cancers bear surface receptors that prevent the lytic function of complement. These are just a few of the examples of mechanisms used by pathogens to prevail over their hosts' immune systems that we will study in this course. We will discuss what these host-pathogen interactions reveal not only about the normal function of the immune system but also about cell biological processes.


General Immunology (7.23) or permission of the instructor.

Course Details

The course will be a weekly seminar based upon discussions and critical analysis of primary literature. Class will begin with a discussion of the papers handed out the previous week. We will analyze the technical aspects as well as the logic and key conclusions of each paper. I will encourage you to point out positive aspects of the papers as well as voice any criticisms of the methodology or logic used. At the end of the discussion, we will summarize the overarching messages of the papers and determine how they fit into the themes of the course as a whole. Each class will end with a ten to fifteen minute introduction to the subject for the following week.


For a typical weekly session, you will be required to read two primary literature articles. In preparation for the discussion, you will write two discussion questions about one of the articles and email the questions to me at least one hour before class.

There will be two written assignments and two oral presentation assignments.


This is a discussion class, therefore attendance is mandatory. Everyone is allowed one absence during the term. If you are going to miss class, I ask that you notify me ahead of time (just email me if you are sick). If you must miss a second class, you must talk with me, and we will arrange an appropriate make-up assignment.


This course is graded pass/fail. Satisfactory attendance, participation, and completion of the two written and two oral assignments will result in a passing grade.