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23 April 2007

How the immune system works

Be cells and T cells play an incredibly important role in defending your body against infections and diseases.

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Cells that will grow into the many types of more specialised cells that circulate throughout the immune system are produced in the bone marrow.

This nutrient-rich, spongy tissue is found in the center shafts of certain long, flat bones of the body, such as the bones of the pelvis. The cells most relevant for understanding vaccines are the lymphocytes, numbering close to one trillion.

B cells and T cells
The two major classes of lymphocytes are B cells, which grow to maturity in the bone marrow, and T cells, which mature in the thymus, high in the chest behind the breastbone.

B cells produce antibodies that circulate in the blood and lymph streams and attach to foreign antigens to mark them for destruction by other immune cells.

B cells are part of what is known as antibody-mediated or humoral immunity, so called because the antibodies circulate in blood and lymph, which the ancient Greeks called, the body's "humors."

Certain T cells, which also patrol the blood and lymph for foreign invaders, can do more than mark the antigens; they attack and destroy diseased cells they recognize as foreign. T lymphocytes are responsible for cell-mediated immunity (or cellular immunity). T cells also orchestrate, regulate and coordinate the overall immune response. T cells depend on unique cell surface molecules called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) to help them recognize antigen fragments.

(Source: National Institutes of Health)

 
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