The innate immune response to Aspergillus fumigatus at the alveolar surface

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Aspergillus fumigatus is an ubiquitous, saprophytic mould that forms and releases airborne conidia which are inhaled by humans on a daily basis. When the immune system is compromised (e.g. immunosuppressive therapy prior to organ transplantation) or there is pre-existing pulmonary malfunction (e.g. asthma, cystic fibrosis, TB lesions), A. fumigatus exploits weaknesses in the host defenses which can result in the development of saphrophytic, allergic or invasive aspergillosis. If not effectively eliminated by the innate immune response, conidia germinate and form invasive hyphae which can penetrate pulmonary tissues. The innate immune response to A. fumigatus is stage-specific and various components of the host's defenses are recruited to challenge the different cellular forms of the pathogen. In immunocompetent hosts, anatomical barriers (e.g. the mucociliary elevator) and professional phagocytes such as alveolar macrophages (AM) and neutrophils prevent the development of aspergillosis by inhibiting the growth of conidia and hyphae. The recognition of inhaled conidia by AM leads to the intracellular degradation of the spores and the secretion of proinflammatory mediators which recruit neutrophils to assist in fungal clearance. During the later stages of infection, dendritic cells activate a protective A. fumigatus-specific adaptive immune response which is driven by Th1 CD4+ T cells.

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