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Companion Animal Practice
Assessment of immune-mediated disease in dogs and cats
  1. Nathaniel Whitley

    Nathaniel Whitley graduated from Glasgow in 1992 and completed an internship at the University of Pennsylvania and a residency at the University of Wisconsin. He holds a PhD for studies on regulatory T cells, and is a diplomate of the American and European Colleges of Veterinary Internal Medicine. In 2005, he joined the internal medicine and cardiology team at Davies Veterinary Specialists in Hertfordshire.


THIS article discusses the application and interpretation of selected tests used to evaluate the immune system in dogs and cats, primarily in the context of autoimmune disease and hypersensitivity. The emphasis is on the more frequently encountered conditions and commercially available tests. Although many of these tests detect autoantibody, the crucial role of cell-mediated immunity in initiating and maintaining antibody production is often overlooked — most B cell responses are controlled by antigenspecific T lymphocytes. The ability to distinguish between B and T lymphocytes has improved — they may be identified in tissue by immunohistochemistry or in body fluids by flow cytometry. However, assays of T cell activity (eg, proliferation assays) remain a research tool. It is also easy to overlook the immune-mediated basis of some diseases traditionally ‘pigeon-holed’ into another category (eg, endocrinopathies). For some conditions, an immune-mediated aetiology is suspected on the basis of a lymphocytic infiltrate and the response to immunosuppressive therapy, but definitive evidence is lacking. The clinician should not ignore this possibility simply because the disease does not have a name or a serological test is not commercially available.

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