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Innate Immune systems


Admission requirements

This course is for MSc students in Biology.


Innate immunity is the primary mechanism by which animals and plants defend themselves against pests and diseases. Their innate immune systems rely on limited sets of evolutionary conserved receptors that recognize pathogen-associated molecular patterns, pathogen-derived effector proteins and danger signals. In vertebrates, the innate immune system also functions to alert the adaptive immune system, which depends on a vast receptor variety and clonal selection of cytotoxic and antibody-producing cells. The course will primarily deal with the different innate defense mechanisms, their biochemical and molecular genetic mode of action, their efficiency and durability and their evolution, heritability and plasticity.

Course objectives

At the end of the course students are able to:

  •    Define molecular components and explain key concepts (including signal molecules, receptors, signaling pathways, transcription factors, defense genes and molecules) in innate immunity in plants, insects and vertebrates
  •    Read and critically evaluate scientific papers published in leading journals in the innate immunity field
  •    Formulate critical questions about scientific papers and debate about possible answers
  •    Make a powerpoint presentation about a scientific paper and present and discuss the scientific data and conclusions
  •    Apply knowledge gained in the course to explain a set of scientific data in the field of innate immunity


Once a week (Wednesday) at the end of the day (15.30-18.30) in the 2nd semester (starting March). The detailed schedule depends on the number of participants and will be finalized after the first session. Typically the course will run from March to and including June, with weekly sessions from 15.30-17.00 and from 15.30-18.30 (depending on the number of participants).

You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have sucessfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go the the 'help-page' in MyTimetable. Please note: Joint Degree students Leiden/Delft have to merge their two different timetables into one. This video explains how to do this.

Mode of instruction

Reading selection of original research papers. Oral presentation of one of the topics. Emphasis is on critical reading, discussion and oral presentations by the participants.

Assessment method

Oral presentation, discussion and a written exam. The assessment method may be subject to change depending on participant number.

Reading list

Links to research papers will be posted on Brightspace at the start of the course. In addition links to 3-5 review papers about innate immunity will be posted as background reading. Participants are assumed to be familiar with the basic theory about the innate immune system in Molecular Biology of the Cell (Alberts et al. sixth edition; chapter 24, pp. 1297-1306) and otherwise this knowledge needs to be acquired by self-study prior to or during the beginning of the course.


From the academic year 2022-2023 on every student has to register for courses with the new enrollment tool MyStudyMap. There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to both preregister and confirm your participation for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam of the course. Confirming your exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.


Coordinators: Prof.dr. J. Memelink & Prof.dr. A.H. Meijer


Minimum number of participants is 20 and maximum number of participants is 36. The exact format of the course depends on participant number.