We've updated our Privacy Policy to make it clearer how we use your personal data.

We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. You can read our Cookie Policy here.

Innate vs Adaptive Immunity

Innate vs Adaptive Immunity

Innate vs Adaptive Immunity

Innate vs Adaptive Immunity

Read time:

Want a FREE PDF version of This Article?

Complete the form below and we will email you a PDF version of "Innate vs Adaptive Immunity"

First Name*
Last Name*
Email Address*
Company Type*
Job Function*
Would you like to receive further email communication from Technology Networks?

Technology Networks Ltd. needs the contact information you provide to us to contact you about our products and services. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time. For information on how to unsubscribe, as well as our privacy practices and commitment to protecting your privacy, check out our Privacy Policy

Organisms must constantly protect themselves from harm caused by pathogens like viruses and bacteria. The immune system delivers this protection via numerous pathways. The immune response is broken down into innate immunity, which an organism is born with, and adaptive immunity, which an organism acquires following disease exposure.

Immunity definition

Immunity is defined as an organism’s ability to protect itself from a pathogen or toxin.

What is innate immunity?

Innate immunity, also known as genetic or natural immunity, is immunity that one is born with. This type of immunity is written in one’s genes, offering lifelong protection. The innate immune response is fast acting and non-specific, meaning it does not respond differently based on the specific virus or bacteria that it detects.

The innate immune system encompasses physical barriers and chemical and cellular defenses.

  • Physical barriers protect the body from invasion. These include things like the skin and eyelashes.
  • Chemical barriers are defense mechanisms that can destroy harmful agent. Examples include tears, mucous, and stomach acid.
  • Cellular defenses of the innate immune response are non-specific. These cellular defenses identify pathogens and substances that are potentially dangerous and takes steps to neutralize or destroy them.

Another way to categorize the components of the innate response is by external defenses, like skin and tears, and internal defenses, like stomach acid and cellular defenses. External defenses provide the first line of defense against pathogens while internal defenses offer the second line of defense.

A comparison of innate and adaptive immunity

What is adaptive immunity?

Adaptive immunity is an organism’s acquired immunity to a specific pathogen. As such, it’s also referred to as acquired immunity. Adaptive immunity is not immediate, nor does it always last throughout an organism’s entire lifespan, although it can. The adaptive immune response is marked by clonal expansion of T and B lymphocytes, releasing many antibody copies to neutralize or destroy their target antigen.

The first time the body encounters a novel disease agent its response is known as the primary immune response. When B lymphocytes, or B cells, encounter a novel antigen, they create antibodies specific to the antigen designed to destroy or neutralize it.

Simultaneously, B cells create memory cells, which are a type of B cell that survives for decades and can detect the pathogen during subsequent exposure.

It takes the body time to create antigen-specific antibodies the first time, and therefore this response takes longer than subsequent responses. If an organism encounters the same pathogen a second time, the immune system’s response will be faster and more robust than the primary immune response. This increased speed is thanks to memory cells.

The above description of adaptive immunity describes active immunity, which is the immunity that occurs following pathogen exposure. Another type of adaptive immunity is passive immunity. Passive immunity occurs when an organism receives external antibodies that protect against a disease. This protection can occur from mother to baby through the placenta or via breast milk, or by injection to defend against a specific disease.

Innate vs adaptive immunity table

The following table summarizes the primary differences between innate and adaptive immunity

Innate Immune Response
Adaptive Immune Response
Takes EffectImmediatelyOver time
Response TypeNon-specificSpecific
  • External defenses
  • Internal defenses
  • Active immunity
  • Passive immunity
Also Known As
Natural immunity; genetic immunity
Acquired immunity
Length of Efficacy
Short-term, long-term, lifelong

Which cells are involved in innate and adaptive immunity?

There are many cell types involved in immunity. In the innate immune response, these include macrophages, neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, mast cells, and dendritic cells. Cells involved in the adaptive immune response include B cells (or B lymphocytes) and a variety of T cells (or T lymphocytes), including helper T cells and suppressor T cells. Natural killer T cells and gamma-delta T cells are part of both the innate and adaptive immune response.

The role of immunological memory

Immunological memory is defined as “the ability of the immune system to respond more rapidly and effectively to a pathogen that has been encountered previously.” Memory cells are to thank for the body’s ability to recognize disease agents that the body has come into contact with previously.

It is thanks to immunological memory that we can vaccinate against infectious diseases. Once the body creates the antibodies necessary to quell a pathogen, it is able to do so more quickly when it encounters the pathogen again in the future. This is true whether you become infected with a disease or inoculated with a weakened or dead form of the disease via a vaccine.