The ecologies of human immune function

Thomas W. McDade*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Immune function is notoriously complex, and current biomedical research elaborates this complexity by focusing on the cellular and molecular mechanisms that characterize immune defenses. However, the human immune system is a product of natural selection that develops and functions in whole organisms that are integral parts of their surrounding environments. A population-level, cross-cultural, adaptationist perspective is therefore a necessary complement to the micro levels of analysis currently favored by biomedical immunology. Prior field-based research on human immunity is reviewed to demonstrate the relevance of cultural ecological factors, with an emphasis on the ecologies of nutrition, infectious disease, reproduction, and psychosocial stress. Common themes and anthropological contributions are identified in an attempt to promote future research in human ecological immunology that integrates theory and method for a more contextualized understanding of this important physiological system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)495-521
Number of pages27
JournalAnnual Review of Anthropology
StatePublished - 2005


  • Growth and development
  • Human biology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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