Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


No previous immunology courses are required. Basic knowledge of molecular biology, cell biology and biochemistry will be helpful. Students are recommended to have taken at least one of the following courses: 

7.03 Genetics

7.06 Cell Biology

7.28 Molecular Biology

Prerequisites may be waived with permission by the instructor.

Course Description

Immune cells are a diverse group of cells that function as foot soldiers to protect our bodies from both self-derived threats and exogenous pathogens, while keeping peace with normal cells and non-harmful or beneficial commensal microbiota. Immune cells are equipped with a variety of powerful and adaptable mechanisms to detect and subsequently resolve a wide spectrum of insults, a capacity that is essential for maintaining homeostasis under normal physiological conditions. However, the same mechanisms can backfire upon immune evasion of invading pathogens or under physiological stress and instead result in severe disorders, such as immunodeficiency, chronic infection and inflammation, autoimmune diseases, allergy, degenerative diseases, and cancer. Basic and translational research studies of immune cells have led to novel strategies to treat some of these disorders.

In this course, we will discuss the connections between normal physiology (defense against infections, immune surveillance, and homeostasis) and disease (immune deficiency, chronic inflammation, and autoimmunity) by examining primary research papers that range from the classic to the most recent. We will discuss the developmental relationship between innate and adaptive immune cells as well as the functions and malfunctions of both types of immune cells. Our topics will include both basic biological principles (such as inflammatory and non-inflammatory cell death and immune cell signaling) and clinical applications (such as immune checkpoint blockade and chimeric antigen receptor-T or CAR-T cells). This course will familiarize students with basic immunological regulatory mechanisms and examples of strategies that apply knowledge of this fundamental biology to improve human health. More generally, students will learn how to identify relevant primary research literature, critically evaluate experimental data, and reach their own conclusions based on primary data. We will have the opportunity to learn how fundamental knowledge can be translated into a therapeutic treatment by visiting Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.


The class will meet weekly for two hours at a time convenient for all participants. Each week two primary research papers will be made available for students to read critically and thoroughly prior to class. During class, the students will critique the papers, focusing on two aspects: 1) overall evaluation of the results and impact of the papers; 2) detailed analysis of experimental design, methods utilized, controls, and key data points that allow authors to reach their conclusions. At the end of each session, two papers for the upcoming week will be previewed.

Course Objectives

The course will introduce students to the critical reading of the primary scientific literature in the field of cellular immunity. By understanding the background of the papers and critiquing the methods, data, and conclusions in the papers, students will learn to:

  1. Extract the overarching questions and hypothesis and understand how the background motivated the authors to work on the questions and form the underlying hypotheses.
  2. Identify assumptions and critique the logic of the arguments in the papers, assess strength and weakness of the arguments, and design follow-up studies.
  3. Explain experimental approaches commonly used to probe questions in immunology.
  4. Identify key experiments and data (including design, controls, and statistical analyses).
  5. Consider alternative approaches and compare the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches.
  6. Learn how to rigorously draw conclusions from data.


This half course (6 credits) is graded pass/fail. As the course is discussion-based, attendance at every class is mandatory and participation is a requirement for a passing grade. Should an emergency occur, please contact the instructor as soon as possible for a make-up assignment.

Field Trip

To complement the papers we read in the course, we will take a field trip to the pharmaceutical company Merck on topics related to cellular immunity (such as immune checkpoint therapies). A lab tour and a career panel discussion will be included in the trip.


1 Class introduction  
2 Development of immune cells  
3 DNA rearrangements in adaptive immune cells  
4 T cells: Th2 and cytotoxic T cells  
5 Cell death and immune processes  
6 Cell death and immune processes  
7 Th17 cells  
8 T cells (adoptive immune transfer) Midterm written assignment due
9 Autoimmunity  
10 Innate lymphoid cells (ILC)  
11 Macrophages  
12 Trained immunity  
13 Emerging technologies in immunology  
14 Field trip Field trip to Merck
15 Oral presentations and evaluations Oral presentations due