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Immunology at 60

We wish the British Society for Immunology’s official journal, Immunology, a happy 60th birthday, and reflect on some of the journal’s achievements since its launch in 1958.

The British Society for Immunology is immensely proud of its two official journals, Immunology and Clinical & Experimental Immunology. They are two of the longest-standing and most respected journals in our field, and remain at the cutting edge of immunology research to this day.

This year, we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the elder of these two journals, Immunology. Launched in 1958 under the leadership of John Marrack, with key figures from the world of immunology such as Av Mitchison, Philip Gell and Robin Coombs on the editorial board, Immunology sought to provide a home for immunological research: the first edition opened with the questions ‘What shall we call the house?’ and ‘How much should we include in it?’1 The name, Immunology, was easy enough. Setting the outer boundaries of such a vibrant field was a little harder: they concluded that the ‘lines that divide Immunology from Physical and Colloid Chemistry, Biochemistry, Genetics and Zoology must remain indefinite’.

Marrack’s ‘indefinite’ lines endure to this day, reflecting the highly interdisciplinary nature of modern immunological study. The journal has published over 13,900 papers in its lifetime, each advancing our understanding of immunology and related sciences. Here, we explore the contribution of the journal to the advancement of immunological knowledge over the past 60 years by focusing on some highlights – past and present – and look to the future as Immunology continues to seek and publish the best work at the cutting edge of the field. 

Image from Shi 2012 Immunology 136 133–138


In the very first edition of Immunology, the editors selected two papers by Peter Medawar, the ‘father of modern transplantation’, on adrenal cortical grafts in mice2 and skin homografts in rats.3 Medawar was a pioneer in the field and went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1960 for the discovery of acquired immunological tolerance (jointly with Frank Macfarlane Burnett).

Immunology continues its work in publishing strong papers which address renewed questions around tolerance, rejection and other issues our advances in transplantation immunology have raised.4-6 We think Medawar might have been gratified and even amused to see the field of transplantation immunology now extended to include work on the practicalities and possibilities of faecal transplants.


2.  Medawar & Russell 1958 Adrenal homografts in mice, with special reference to `immunological adrenalectomy’. Immunology 1 1–12   
3.  Medawar & Woodruff 1958 The induction of tolerance by skin homografts on newborn rats. Immunology 1 27–35
4.  Shi 2012 Recent progress toward understanding the physiological function of bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells. Immunology 136 133–138  
5.  Gajardo et al. 2015 Exogenous interleukin-33 targets myeloid-derived suppressor cells and generates periphery-induced Foxp3+ regulatory T cells in skintransplanted mice. Immunology 146 81–88
6.  Brent 2016 Transplantation tolerance – a historical introduction. Immunology 147 267–268 

Developing tools and techniques

To successfully study the workings of the immune system, immunologists rely on innovation in scientific techniques as well as advances in our understanding of the science itself. The most highly cited paper in the journal’s history, with an enormous 2,742 citations, describes an early iteration of direct plaque forming cell (PFC) assay.7 Another Nobel laureate, Rodney Porter, published work on performing effective in vitro assays on the reaginic antibodies of human serum in Immunology in the late 1960s.8

Older readers may be able to remember the transformative period during which immunologists worked to unravel the diversity and meaning of lymphocyte subsets. Arguably the initiating paper in this decades-long process was the Immunology publication in which Martin Raff first used fluorescence microscopy to describe what would come to be known as T cells and B cells.9

Today, immunologists are developing bioinformatics tools to help analyse the huge datasets10 generated during research. Earlier this year, we published a review article by Damien Chaussabel and Darawan Rinchai11 on the importance of training the next generation of immunologists in bioinformatics skills, and how these new skills could change the way we approach scientific research.


7. Cunningham & Szenberg 1968 Further improvements in the plaque technique for detecting single antibody-forming cells. Immunology 14 599–600
8. Chan & Porter 1967 In vitro assay of reaginic antibodies to horse serum albumin. Immunology 13 633–640 
9. Raff 1970 Two distinct populations of peripheral lymphocytes in mice distinguishable by immunofluorescence. Immunology 19 637–50
10. Jensen et al. 2018 Improved methods for predicting peptide binding affinity to MHC class II molecules. Immunology 154 394–406 doi: 10.1111/imm.12889
11. Chaussabel & Rinchai 2018 Using ‘collective omics data’ for biomedical research training. Immunology 155 18–23 doi:10.1111/imm.12944


Over the past 20 years, the phenomenon of large ageing populations has become a central public health challenge for scientists, policymakers and medical professionals alike and immunologists have a key role to play in the discussion. Investigating how we can ‘age well’ to extend healthy lifespan in the older population and the role that the loss of immune function plays in ageing and our well-being are growing fields of study.

Immunology has led the way by publishing strong research and reviews into how age affects our immune systems and health.12–16 Through the years, we’ve published work in this area by our incoming President, Arne Akbar.14–15


12.  Lazuardi et al. 2005 Age-related loss of naïve T cells and dysregulation of T-cell/B-cell interactions in human lymph nodes. Immunology 114 37–43
13. Aw et al. 2007 Immunosenescence: emerging challenges for an ageing population. Immunology 120 435–446
14. Henson et al. 2012 Reversal of functional defects in highly differentiated young and old CD8 T cells by PDL blockade. Immunology 135 355–363
15. Riddell et al. 2015 Multifunctional cytomegalovirus (CMV)-specific CD8+ T cells are not restricted by telomere-related senescence in young or old adults. Immunology 144 549–560
16.  Kennedy et al. 2016 The composition of immune cells serves as a predictor of adaptive immunity in a cohort of 50- to 74-year-old adults. Immunology 148 266–275 

Image from Erny et al. 2017 Immunology 150 7–15


Another emerging field of research reflected in the pages of Immunology is immunometabolism. This is a perfect example of how the basic, molecular science Immunology excels in publishing can be harnessed to address public health problems on a larger scale. Particularly noteworthy is a 2004 research paper from Eva Pålsson-McDermott and Luke O’Neill on the role of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) signal transduction during septic shock.17 More recently, the journal has published significant studies on the role of diet, the importance of the microbiome for health, and the interactions of immune cells and adipose cells in visceral adipose tissue in metabolic syndrome.18–21 While there is much yet to be understood, the strong research published in the journal could reveal useful insights into the mechanisms underpinning chronic conditions such as obesity, inflammation and type 2 diabetes, making this a worthy, relevant field of research.


17.  Pålsson-McDermott & O’Neill 2004 Signal transduction by the lipopolysaccharide receptor, Toll-like receptor-4. Immunology 113 153–162
18.  Erny et al. 2017 Communicating systems in the body: how microbiota and microglia cooperate. Immunology 150 7–15
19.  Oliveira et al. 2017 Intestinal dysbiosis and probiotic applications in autoimmune diseases. Immunology 152 1–12
20.  Eijkeren et al. 2018 Endogenous lipid antigens for invariant natural killer T cells hold the reins in adipose tissue homeostasis. Immunology 153 179–189
21.  Russo & Lumeng 2018 Properties and functions of adipose tissue macrophages in obesity. Immunology doi: 10.1111/imm.13002


The Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology this year was awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation, throwing immunology and immunotherapies into the public eye. The award, of course, represents the tip of the iceberg; the result of years of meticulous work by international teams in academic labs and industry.

Immunology has played its part in publishing this work, including an early paper by Tasuku Honjo addressing the regulation of B-1 cell activation and its autoantibody production by Lyn kinase-regulated signallings,22 studies on the PD-1 and CTLA-4 proteins which Honjo and Allison were able to harness so effectively,23–24 and investigations into other elements of anti-tumour immunity and possible immunotherapies.25–26


22.  Ochi et al. 1999 Regulation of B-1 cell activation and its autoantibody production by Lyn kinase-regulated signallings. Immunology 98 595–603 
23.  Jelinek et al. 2017 PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors in haematological malignancies: update 2017. Immunology 152 357–371  
24.  Zhang et al. 2018 ImmTAC/Anti-PD-1 antibody combination to enhance killing of cancer cells by reversing regulatory T-cell-mediated immunosuppression. Immunology 155 238–250
25.  Ahrends & Borst. 2018 The opposing roles of CD4+ T cells in anti-tumour immunity. Immunology 154 582–592
26.  Want et al. 2018 Nature of tumour rejection antigens in ovarian cancer. Immunology 155 202–210 

We hope you have enjoyed this glance into the publishing history of the journal, and encourage you to submit your next paper to us here at Immunology : not only will you be supporting the ongoing work of the BSI, but you’ll find yourself in pretty good company, archived with Nobel laureates and many other stars.

Christine Fears
Journals Manager, BSI


Additional references

1.  Marrack 1958 Immunology 1 p. ii.  

If you would like to read more about the work featured in Immunology over the years, why not check out our interview with Professor Martin Raff on his seminal paper outlining how his research into lymphocytes led to his successful identification of Thy-1 as the marker for T cells, or our special collection of the top 20 most cited papers from the journal's archive.  You can read more about Immunology's 60th celebrations in our news section