Skip to Content
OpenStax Logo
Microbiology

19.4 Immunodeficiency

Microbiology 19.4 Immunodeficiency
Buy book
  1. Preface
  2. 1 An Invisible World
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 What Our Ancestors Knew
    3. 1.2 A Systematic Approach
    4. 1.3 Types of Microorganisms
    5. Summary
    6. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Fill in the Blank
      3. Short Answer
      4. Critical Thinking
  3. 2 How We See the Invisible World
    1. Introduction
    2. 2.1 The Properties of Light
    3. 2.2 Peering Into the Invisible World
    4. 2.3 Instruments of Microscopy
    5. 2.4 Staining Microscopic Specimens
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Fill in the Blank
      3. Short Answer
      4. Critical Thinking
  4. 3 The Cell
    1. Introduction
    2. 3.1 Spontaneous Generation
    3. 3.2 Foundations of Modern Cell Theory
    4. 3.3 Unique Characteristics of Prokaryotic Cells
    5. 3.4 Unique Characteristics of Eukaryotic Cells
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. True/False
      3. Fill in the Blank
      4. Short Answer
      5. Critical Thinking
  5. 4 Prokaryotic Diversity
    1. Introduction
    2. 4.1 Prokaryote Habitats, Relationships, and Microbiomes
    3. 4.2 Proteobacteria
    4. 4.3 Nonproteobacteria Gram-Negative Bacteria and Phototrophic Bacteria
    5. 4.4 Gram-Positive Bacteria
    6. 4.5 Deeply Branching Bacteria
    7. 4.6 Archaea
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. True/False
      3. Fill in the Blank
      4. Short Answer
      5. Critical Thinking
  6. 5 The Eukaryotes of Microbiology
    1. Introduction
    2. 5.1 Unicellular Eukaryotic Parasites
    3. 5.2 Parasitic Helminths
    4. 5.3 Fungi
    5. 5.4 Algae
    6. 5.5 Lichens
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Fill in the Blank
      3. Short Answer
      4. Critical Thinking
  7. 6 Acellular Pathogens
    1. Introduction
    2. 6.1 Viruses
    3. 6.2 The Viral Life Cycle
    4. 6.3 Isolation, Culture, and Identification of Viruses
    5. 6.4 Viroids, Virusoids, and Prions
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. True/False
      3. Fill in the Blank
      4. Short Answer
      5. Critical Thinking
  8. 7 Microbial Biochemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 7.1 Organic Molecules
    3. 7.2 Carbohydrates
    4. 7.3 Lipids
    5. 7.4 Proteins
    6. 7.5 Using Biochemistry to Identify Microorganisms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. True/False
      3. Matching
      4. Fill in the Blank
      5. Short Answer
      6. Critical Thinking
  9. 8 Microbial Metabolism
    1. Introduction
    2. 8.1 Energy, Matter, and Enzymes
    3. 8.2 Catabolism of Carbohydrates
    4. 8.3 Cellular Respiration
    5. 8.4 Fermentation
    6. 8.5 Catabolism of Lipids and Proteins
    7. 8.6 Photosynthesis
    8. 8.7 Biogeochemical Cycles
    9. Summary
    10. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. True/False
      3. Matching
      4. Fill in the Blank
      5. Short Answer
      6. Critical Thinking
  10. 9 Microbial Growth
    1. Introduction
    2. 9.1 How Microbes Grow
    3. 9.2 Oxygen Requirements for Microbial Growth
    4. 9.3 The Effects of pH on Microbial Growth
    5. 9.4 Temperature and Microbial Growth
    6. 9.5 Other Environmental Conditions that Affect Growth
    7. 9.6 Media Used for Bacterial Growth
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Matching
      3. Fill in the Blank
      4. Short Answer
      5. Critical Thinking
  11. 10 Biochemistry of the Genome
    1. Introduction
    2. 10.1 Using Microbiology to Discover the Secrets of Life
    3. 10.2 Structure and Function of DNA
    4. 10.3 Structure and Function of RNA
    5. 10.4 Structure and Function of Cellular Genomes
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. True/False
      3. Matching
      4. Fill in the Blank
      5. Short Answer
      6. Critical Thinking
  12. 11 Mechanisms of Microbial Genetics
    1. Introduction
    2. 11.1 The Functions of Genetic Material
    3. 11.2 DNA Replication
    4. 11.3 RNA Transcription
    5. 11.4 Protein Synthesis (Translation)
    6. 11.5 Mutations
    7. 11.6 How Asexual Prokaryotes Achieve Genetic Diversity
    8. 11.7 Gene Regulation: Operon Theory
    9. Summary
    10. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. True/False
      3. Fill in the Blank
      4. Short Answer
      5. Critical Thinking
  13. 12 Modern Applications of Microbial Genetics
    1. Introduction
    2. 12.1 Microbes and the Tools of Genetic Engineering
    3. 12.2 Visualizing and Characterizing DNA, RNA, and Protein
    4. 12.3 Whole Genome Methods and Pharmaceutical Applications of Genetic Engineering
    5. 12.4 Gene Therapy
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. True/False
      3. Fill in the Blank
      4. Short Answer
      5. Critical Thinking
  14. 13 Control of Microbial Growth
    1. Introduction
    2. 13.1 Controlling Microbial Growth
    3. 13.2 Using Physical Methods to Control Microorganisms
    4. 13.3 Using Chemicals to Control Microorganisms
    5. 13.4 Testing the Effectiveness of Antiseptics and Disinfectants
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. True/False
      3. Fill in the Blank
      4. Short Answer
      5. Critical Thinking
  15. 14 Antimicrobial Drugs
    1. Introduction
    2. 14.1 History of Chemotherapy and Antimicrobial Discovery
    3. 14.2 Fundamentals of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy
    4. 14.3 Mechanisms of Antibacterial Drugs
    5. 14.4 Mechanisms of Other Antimicrobial Drugs
    6. 14.5 Drug Resistance
    7. 14.6 Testing the Effectiveness of Antimicrobials
    8. 14.7 Current Strategies for Antimicrobial Discovery
    9. Summary
    10. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. True/False
      3. Fill in the Blank
      4. Short Answer
      5. Critical Thinking
  16. 15 Microbial Mechanisms of Pathogenicity
    1. Introduction
    2. 15.1 Characteristics of Infectious Disease
    3. 15.2 How Pathogens Cause Disease
    4. 15.3 Virulence Factors of Bacterial and Viral Pathogens
    5. 15.4 Virulence Factors of Eukaryotic Pathogens
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Fill in the Blank
      3. Short Answer
      4. Critical Thinking
  17. 16 Disease and Epidemiology
    1. Introduction
    2. 16.1 The Language of Epidemiologists
    3. 16.2 Tracking Infectious Diseases
    4. 16.3 Modes of Disease Transmission
    5. 16.4 Global Public Health
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Matching
      3. Fill in the Blank
      4. Short Answer
      5. Critical Thinking
  18. 17 Innate Nonspecific Host Defenses
    1. Introduction
    2. 17.1 Physical Defenses
    3. 17.2 Chemical Defenses
    4. 17.3 Cellular Defenses
    5. 17.4 Pathogen Recognition and Phagocytosis
    6. 17.5 Inflammation and Fever
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Matching
      3. Fill in the Blank
      4. Short Answer
      5. Critical Thinking
  19. 18 Adaptive Specific Host Defenses
    1. Introduction
    2. 18.1 Overview of Specific Adaptive Immunity
    3. 18.2 Major Histocompatibility Complexes and Antigen-Presenting Cells
    4. 18.3 T Lymphocytes and Cellular Immunity
    5. 18.4 B Lymphocytes and Humoral Immunity
    6. 18.5 Vaccines
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Matching
      3. Fill in the Blank
      4. Short Answer
      5. Critical Thinking
  20. 19 Diseases of the Immune System
    1. Introduction
    2. 19.1 Hypersensitivities
    3. 19.2 Autoimmune Disorders
    4. 19.3 Organ Transplantation and Rejection
    5. 19.4 Immunodeficiency
    6. 19.5 Cancer Immunobiology and Immunotherapy
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Matching
      3. Fill in the Blank
      4. Short Answer
      5. Critical Thinking
  21. 20 Laboratory Analysis of the Immune Response
    1. Introduction
    2. 20.1 Polyclonal and Monoclonal Antibody Production
    3. 20.2 Detecting Antigen-Antibody Complexes
    4. 20.3 Agglutination Assays
    5. 20.4 EIAs and ELISAs
    6. 20.5 Fluorescent Antibody Techniques
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Fill in the Blank
      3. Short Answer
      4. Critical Thinking
  22. 21 Skin and Eye Infections
    1. Introduction
    2. 21.1 Anatomy and Normal Microbiota of the Skin and Eyes
    3. 21.2 Bacterial Infections of the Skin and Eyes
    4. 21.3 Viral Infections of the Skin and Eyes
    5. 21.4 Mycoses of the Skin
    6. 21.5 Protozoan and Helminthic Infections of the Skin and Eyes
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Fill in the Blank
      3. Short Answer
      4. Critical Thinking
  23. 22 Respiratory System Infections
    1. Introduction
    2. 22.1 Anatomy and Normal Microbiota of the Respiratory Tract
    3. 22.2 Bacterial Infections of the Respiratory Tract
    4. 22.3 Viral Infections of the Respiratory Tract
    5. 22.4 Respiratory Mycoses
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Fill in the Blank
      3. Short Answer
      4. Critical Thinking
  24. 23 Urogenital System Infections
    1. Introduction
    2. 23.1 Anatomy and Normal Microbiota of the Urogenital Tract
    3. 23.2 Bacterial Infections of the Urinary System
    4. 23.3 Bacterial Infections of the Reproductive System
    5. 23.4 Viral Infections of the Reproductive System
    6. 23.5 Fungal Infections of the Reproductive System
    7. 23.6 Protozoan Infections of the Urogenital System
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Fill in the Blank
      3. Short Answer
      4. Critical Thinking
  25. 24 Digestive System Infections
    1. Introduction
    2. 24.1 Anatomy and Normal Microbiota of the Digestive System
    3. 24.2 Microbial Diseases of the Mouth and Oral Cavity
    4. 24.3 Bacterial Infections of the Gastrointestinal Tract
    5. 24.4 Viral Infections of the Gastrointestinal Tract
    6. 24.5 Protozoan Infections of the Gastrointestinal Tract
    7. 24.6 Helminthic Infections of the Gastrointestinal Tract
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Fill in the Blank
      3. Short Answer
      4. Critical Thinking
  26. 25 Circulatory and Lymphatic System Infections
    1. Introduction
    2. 25.1 Anatomy of the Circulatory and Lymphatic Systems
    3. 25.2 Bacterial Infections of the Circulatory and Lymphatic Systems
    4. 25.3 Viral Infections of the Circulatory and Lymphatic Systems
    5. 25.4 Parasitic Infections of the Circulatory and Lymphatic Systems
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Fill in the Blank
      3. Short Answer
      4. Critical Thinking
  27. 26 Nervous System Infections
    1. Introduction
    2. 26.1 Anatomy of the Nervous System
    3. 26.2 Bacterial Diseases of the Nervous System
    4. 26.3 Acellular Diseases of the Nervous System
    5. 26.4 Fungal and Parasitic Diseases of the Nervous System
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
      1. Multiple Choice
      2. Matching
      3. Fill in the Blank
      4. Short Answer
      5. Critical Thinking
  28. A | Fundamentals of Physics and Chemistry Important to Microbiology
  29. B | Mathematical Basics
  30. C | Metabolic Pathways
  31. D | Taxonomy of Clinically Relevant Microorganisms
  32. E | Glossary
  33. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
    21. Chapter 21
    22. Chapter 22
    23. Chapter 23
    24. Chapter 24
    25. Chapter 25
    26. Chapter 26
  34. Index

Learning Objectives

  • Compare the causes of primary and secondary immunodeficiencies
  • Describe treatments for primary and secondary immunodeficiencies

Immunodeficiencies are inherited (primary) or acquired (secondary) disorders in which elements of host immune defenses are either absent or functionally defective. In developed countries, most immunodeficiencies are inherited, and they are usually first seen in the clinic as recurrent or overwhelming infections in infants. However, on a global scale, malnutrition is the most common cause of immunodeficiency and would be categorized as an acquired immunodeficiency. Acquired immunodeficiencies are more likely to develop later in life, and the pathogenic mechanisms of many remain obscure.

Primary Immunodeficiency

Primary immunodeficiencies, which number more than 250, are caused by inherited defects of either nonspecific innate or specific adaptive immune defenses. In general, patients born with primary immunodeficiency (PI) commonly have an increased susceptibility to infection. This susceptibility can become apparent shortly after birth or in early childhood for some individuals, whereas other patients develop symptoms later in life. Some primary immunodeficiencies are due to a defect of a single cellular or humoral component of the immune system; others may result from defects of more than one component. Examples of primary immunodeficiencies include chronic granulomatous disease, X-linked agammaglobulinemia, selective IgA deficiency, and severe combined immunodeficiency disease.

Chronic Granulomatous Disease

The causes of chronic granulomatous disease (CGD) are defects in the NADPH oxidase system of phagocytic cells, including neutrophils and macrophages, that prevent the production of superoxide radicals in phagolysosomes. The inability to produce superoxide radicals impairs the antibacterial activity of phagocytes. As a result, infections in patients with CGD persist longer, leading to a chronic local inflammation called a granuloma. Microorganisms that are the most common causes of infections in patients with CGD include Aspergillus spp., Staphylococcus aureus, Chromobacterium violaceum, Serratia marcescens, and Salmonella typhimurium.

X-Linked Agammaglobulinemia

Deficiencies in B cells due to defective differentiation lead to a lack of specific antibody production known as X-linked agammaglobulinemia. In 1952, Ogden C. Bruton (1908–2003) described the first immunodeficiency in a boy whose immune system failed to produce antibodies. This defect is inherited on the X chromosome and is characterized by the absence of immunoglobulin in the serum; it is called Bruton X-linked agammaglobulinemia (XLA). The defective gene, BTK, in XLA is now known to encode a tyrosine kinase called Bruton tyrosine kinase (Btk). In patients whose B cells are unable to produce sufficient amounts of Btk, the B-cell maturation and differentiation halts at the pre-B-cell stage of growth. B-cell maturation and differentiation beyond the pre-B-cell stage of growth is required for immunoglobulin production. Patients who lack antibody production suffer from recurrent infections almost exclusively due to extracellular pathogens that cause pyogenic infections: Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, S. pyogenes, and S. aureus. Because cell-mediated immunity is not impaired, these patients are not particularly vulnerable to infections caused by viruses or intracellular pathogens.

Selective IgA Deficiency

The most common inherited form of immunoglobulin deficiency is selective IgA deficiency, affecting about one in 800 people. Individuals with selective IgA deficiency produce normal levels of IgG and IgM, but are not able to produce secretory IgA. IgA deficiency predisposes these individuals to lung and gastrointestinal infections for which secretory IgA is normally an important defense mechanism. Infections in the lungs and gastrointestinal tract can involve a variety of pathogens, including H. influenzae, S. pneumoniae, Moraxella catarrhalis, S. aureus, Giardia lamblia, or pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli.

Severe Combined Immunodeficiency

Patients who suffer from severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) have B-cell and T-cell defects that impair T-cell dependent antibody responses as well as cell-mediated immune responses. Patients with SCID also cannot develop immunological memory, so vaccines provide them no protection, and live attenuated vaccines (e.g., for varicella-zoster, measles virus, rotavirus, poliovirus) can actually cause the infection they are intended to prevent. The most common form is X-linked SCID, which accounts for nearly 50% of all cases and occurs primarily in males. Patients with SCID are typically diagnosed within the first few months of life after developing severe, often life-threatening, opportunistic infection by Candida spp., Pneumocystis jirovecii, or pathogenic strains of E. coli.

Without treatment, babies with SCID do not typically survive infancy. In some cases, a bone marrow transplant may successfully correct the defects in lymphocyte development that lead to the SCID phenotype, by replacing the defective component. However, this treatment approach is not without risks, as demonstrated by the famous case of David Vetter (1971–1984), better known as “Bubble Boy” (Figure 19.19). Vetter, a patient with SCID who lived in a protective plastic bubble to prevent exposure to opportunistic microbes, received a bone marrow transplant from his sister. Because of a latent Epstein-Barr virus infection in her bone marrow, however, he developed mononucleosis and died of Burkitt lymphoma at the age of 12 years.

Photo of a boy in a suit similar to a space suit.
Figure 19.19 David Vetter, popularly known as “The Bubble Boy,” was born with SCID and lived most of his life isolated inside a plastic bubble. Here he is shown outside the bubble in a suit specially built for him by NASA. (credit: NASA Johnson Space Center)

Check Your Understanding

  • What is the fundamental cause of a primary immunodeficiency?
  • Explain why patients with chronic granulomatous disease are especially susceptible to bacterial infections.
  • Explain why individuals with selective IgA deficiency are susceptible to respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.

Secondary Immunodeficiency

A secondary immunodeficiency occurs as a result an acquired impairment of function of B cells, T cells, or both. Secondary immunodeficiencies can be caused by:

  • Systemic disorders such as diabetes mellitus, malnutrition, hepatitis, or HIV infection
  • Immunosuppressive treatments such as cytotoxic chemotherapy, bone marrow ablation before transplantation, or radiation therapy
  • Prolonged critical illness due to infection, surgery, or trauma in the very young, elderly, or hospitalized patients

Unlike primary immunodeficiencies, which have a genetic basis, secondary immunodeficiencies are often reversible if the underlying cause is resolved. Patients with secondary immunodeficiencies develop an increased susceptibility to an otherwise benign infection by opportunistic pathogens such as Candida spp., P. jirovecii, and Cryptosporidium.

HIV infection and the associated acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) are the best-known secondary immunodeficiencies. AIDS is characterized by profound CD4 T-cell lymphopenia (decrease in lymphocytes). The decrease in CD4 T cells is the result of various mechanisms, including HIV-induced pyroptosis (a type of apoptosis that stimulates an inflammatory response), viral cytopathic effect, and cytotoxicity to HIV-infected cells.

The most common cause of secondary immunodeficiency worldwide is severe malnutrition, which affects both innate and adaptive immunity. More research and information are needed for the more common causes of secondary immunodeficiency; however, the number of new discoveries in AIDS research far exceeds that of any other single cause of secondary immunodeficiency. AIDS research has paid off extremely well in terms of discoveries and treatments; increased research into the most common cause of immunodeficiency, malnutrition, would likely be as beneficial.

Check Your Understanding

  • What is the most common cause of secondary immunodeficiencies?
  • Explain why secondary immunodeficiencies can sometimes be reversed.

Case in Point

An Immunocompromised Host

Benjamin, a 50-year-old male patient who has been receiving chemotherapy to treat his chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), a disease characterized by massive overproduction of nonfunctional, malignant myelocytic leukocytes that crowd out other, healthy leukocytes, is seen in the emergency department. He is complaining of a productive, wet cough, dyspnea, and fatigue. On examination, his pulse is 120 beats per minute (bpm) (normal range is 60–100 bpm) and weak, and his blood pressure is 90/60 mm Hg (normal is 120/80 mm Hg). During auscultation, a distinct crackling can be heard in his lungs as he breathes, and his pulse-oximeter level (a measurement of blood-oxygen saturation) is 80% (normal is 95%–100%). He has a fever; his temperature is 38.9 °C (102 °F). Sputum cultures and blood samples are obtained and sent to the lab, but Benjamin goes into respiratory distress and dies before the results can be obtained.

Benjamin’s death was a result of a combination of his immune system being compromised by his leukemia and his chemotherapy treatment further weakening his ability to mount an immune response. CML (and leukemia in general) and corresponding chemotherapy cause a decrease in the number of leukocytes capable of normal function, leading to secondary immunodeficiency. This increases the risk for opportunistic bacterial, viral, protozoal, and fungal infections that could include Staphylococcus, enteroviruses, Pneumocystis, Giardia, or Candida. Benjamin’s symptoms were suggestive of bacterial pneumonia, but his leukemia and chemotherapy likely complicated and contributed to the severity of the pneumonia, resulting in his death. Because his leukemia was overproducing certain white blood cells, and those overproduced white blood cells were largely nonfunctional or abnormal in their function, he did not have the proper immune system blood cells to help him fight off the infection.

Table 19.8 summarizes primary and secondary immunodeficiencies, their effects on immune function, and typical outcomes.

Primary and Secondary Immunodeficiencies
Disease Effect on Immune Function Outcomes
Primary immunodeficiencies Chronic granulomatous disease Impaired killing of bacteria within the phagolysosome of neutrophils and macrophages Chronic infections and granulomas
Selective IgA deficiency Inability to produce secretory IgA Predisposition to lung and gastrointestinal infections
Severe combined immunodeficiency disease (SCID) Deficient humoral and cell-mediated immune responses Early development of severe and life-threatening opportunistic infections
X-linked agammaglobulinemia Flawed differentiation of B cells and absence of specific antibodies Recurrent infections almost exclusively due to pathogens that cause pyogenic infections
Secondary immunodeficiencies Immunosuppressive therapies (e.g., chemotherapy, radiotherapy) Impaired humoral and/or cell-mediated immune responses Opportunistic infections, rare cancers
Malnutrition Impaired humoral and/or cell-mediated immune responses Opportunistic infections, rare cancers
Viral infection (e.g., HIV) Impaired cell-mediated immune responses due to CD4 T-cell lymphopenia Opportunistic infections, rare cancers
Table 19.8
Citation/Attribution

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book is Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/microbiology/pages/1-introduction
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/microbiology/pages/1-introduction
Citation information

© Nov 1, 2016 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 license. The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.