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Immunity

The major molecules of the immune response


Antigen
Any molecule, usually a protein or large carbohydrate, that can be specifically
recognised as foreign by cells of the immune system
Epitope
A localised region on the surface of an antigen that is chemically recognised by
antibodies; also called antigenic determinant.
Antibody
A specific protein (immunoglobulin) that recognises and binds to specific
antigens; produced by plasma cells
Major histocompatibility
A set of proteins found on the surface of cells that label the cell as belonging
complex (MHC)
to a unique individual organism
Cytokines (lymphokines)
Signalling proteins that regulate interactions between cells in the immune
system. Important groups include interferons, interleukins and chemokines
Major cells of the immune system
Macrophage
A large phagocytic white blood cell capable of ingesting and digesting bacteria and cellular
debris. Macrophage is also antigen-presenting cell
B cell (B
A type of white blood cell responsible for antibody-mediated immunity. When stimulated, B
lymphocyte)
cells differentiate to plasma cells that produce antibodies.
Plasma cell
Cell that secretes antibodies; a differentiated B lymphocyte (B cell)
T cell (T
The type of white blood cell responsible for a wide variety of immune functions,
lymphocyte)
particularly cell-mediated immunity. T cells are processed in the thymus.
Cytotoxic T cell
T lymphocyte that destroys cancer cells and other pathogenic cells on contact. Also known
(T-cytotoxic cell) as CD8 T cell and killer T cell.
Helper T cell
T lymphocyte that activates B lymphocytes and can stimulate cytotoxic T cell production.
(T-helper cell)
Also known as CD4 T cell.
Suppressor T cell T lymphocyte that suppresses the immune response
(T-suppressor
cell)
Memory cell
B or T lymphocyte that is long-lived and provides future immunity against a second
invasion by the same antigen.
Lymphatic system
The lymphatic system consists of widely distributed lymph capillaries which are found in all tissues of the
body. These capillaries merge to form lymph vessels which possess valves and whose structure is similar to that
of veins. The fluid within these vessels, the lymph, is therefore carried in one direction only, namely, away from
the tissues. The lymph vessels from the right side of the head and thorax and the right arm combine to form the
right lymphatic duct which drains into the right subclavian vein near the heart. The lymph vessels from the
rest of the body form the thoracic duct which drains into the left subclavian vein.
Situated at intervals through the lymphatic system are lymph glands or nodes. Lymphocytes, in the
course of circulation through the blood and lymph, accumulate in the lymph nodes. They produce antibodies
and are an important part of the bodys immune system. Phagocytes in the nodes also remove bacteria and
foreign particles from the lymph.
The movement of lymph through the lymphatic system is achieved in three ways:
1. Hydrostatic pressure The pressure of tissue fluid leaving the arterioles helps push lymph along the
lymph system.
2. Muscle contraction The contraction of skeletal muscle compresses lymph vessels, exerting a pressure
on the lymph within them. The valves in the vessels ensure that this pressure pushes the lymph in the
direction of the heart.
3. Inspiratory movements On breathing in, pressure in the thorax is decreased. This helps to draw lymph
towards the vessels in the thorax.
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