Antecedent or current infections can alter the immunopathologic outcome of a subsequent unrelated infection. Immunomodulation by co-infecting pathogens has been referred to as 'heterologous immunity' and has been postulated to play a role in host susceptibility to disease, tolerance to organ transplant, and autoimmune disease. The effect of various infections on heterologous immune responses has been well studied in the context of shared epitopes and cross-reactive T cells. It has been shown that prior infections can modulate protective immunity and immunopathology by forming a pool of memory T cells that can cross-react with antigens from heterologous organisms or through the generation of a network of regulatory cells and cytokines. While it is not feasible to alter a host's history of prior infection, understanding heterologous immune responses in the context of simultaneous unrelated infections could have important therapeutic implications. Here, we outline key evidence from animal and human studies demonstrating the effect of heterologous immunity on the outcome of disease. We briefly review the role of T cells, but expand our discussion to explore other immune mechanisms that may modulate the response to concurrent active infections. In particular, we underscore the role of the innate immune system, polarized responses and regulatory mechanisms on heterologous immune responses.
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