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Concepts of Biology

17.3 Adaptive Immunity

Concepts of Biology17.3 Adaptive Immunity
  1. Preface
  2. Unit 1. The Cellular Foundation of Life
    1. 1 Introduction to Biology
      1. Introduction
      2. 1.1 Themes and Concepts of Biology
      3. 1.2 The Process of Science
      4. Key Terms
      5. Chapter Summary
      6. Visual Connection Questions
      7. Review Questions
      8. Critical Thinking Questions
    2. 2 Chemistry of Life
      1. Introduction
      2. 2.1 The Building Blocks of Molecules
      3. 2.2 Water
      4. 2.3 Biological Molecules
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
    3. 3 Cell Structure and Function
      1. Introduction
      2. 3.1 How Cells Are Studied
      3. 3.2 Comparing Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic Cells
      4. 3.3 Eukaryotic Cells
      5. 3.4 The Cell Membrane
      6. 3.5 Passive Transport
      7. 3.6 Active Transport
      8. Key Terms
      9. Chapter Summary
      10. Visual Connection Questions
      11. Review Questions
      12. Critical Thinking Questions
    4. 4 How Cells Obtain Energy
      1. Introduction
      2. 4.1 Energy and Metabolism
      3. 4.2 Glycolysis
      4. 4.3 Citric Acid Cycle and Oxidative Phosphorylation
      5. 4.4 Fermentation
      6. 4.5 Connections to Other Metabolic Pathways
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
    5. 5 Photosynthesis
      1. Introduction
      2. 5.1 Overview of Photosynthesis
      3. 5.2 The Light-Dependent Reactions of Photosynthesis
      4. 5.3 The Calvin Cycle
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
  3. Unit 2. Cell Division and Genetics
    1. 6 Reproduction at the Cellular Level
      1. Introduction
      2. 6.1 The Genome
      3. 6.2 The Cell Cycle
      4. 6.3 Cancer and the Cell Cycle
      5. 6.4 Prokaryotic Cell Division
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    2. 7 The Cellular Basis of Inheritance
      1. Introduction
      2. 7.1 Sexual Reproduction
      3. 7.2 Meiosis
      4. 7.3 Errors in Meiosis
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
    3. 8 Patterns of Inheritance
      1. Introduction
      2. 8.1 Mendel’s Experiments
      3. 8.2 Laws of Inheritance
      4. 8.3 Extensions of the Laws of Inheritance
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
  4. Unit 3. Molecular Biology and Biotechnology
    1. 9 Molecular Biology
      1. Introduction
      2. 9.1 The Structure of DNA
      3. 9.2 DNA Replication
      4. 9.3 Transcription
      5. 9.4 Translation
      6. 9.5 How Genes Are Regulated
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
    2. 10 Biotechnology
      1. Introduction
      2. 10.1 Cloning and Genetic Engineering
      3. 10.2 Biotechnology in Medicine and Agriculture
      4. 10.3 Genomics and Proteomics
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
  5. Unit 4. Evolution and the Diversity of Life
    1. 11 Evolution and Its Processes
      1. Introduction
      2. 11.1 Discovering How Populations Change
      3. 11.2 Mechanisms of Evolution
      4. 11.3 Evidence of Evolution
      5. 11.4 Speciation
      6. 11.5 Common Misconceptions about Evolution
      7. Key Terms
      8. Chapter Summary
      9. Visual Connection Questions
      10. Review Questions
      11. Critical Thinking Questions
    2. 12 Diversity of Life
      1. Introduction
      2. 12.1 Organizing Life on Earth
      3. 12.2 Determining Evolutionary Relationships
      4. Key Terms
      5. Chapter Summary
      6. Visual Connection Questions
      7. Review Questions
      8. Critical Thinking Questions
    3. 13 Diversity of Microbes, Fungi, and Protists
      1. Introduction
      2. 13.1 Prokaryotic Diversity
      3. 13.2 Eukaryotic Origins
      4. 13.3 Protists
      5. 13.4 Fungi
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    4. 14 Diversity of Plants
      1. Introduction
      2. 14.1 The Plant Kingdom
      3. 14.2 Seedless Plants
      4. 14.3 Seed Plants: Gymnosperms
      5. 14.4 Seed Plants: Angiosperms
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    5. 15 Diversity of Animals
      1. Introduction
      2. 15.1 Features of the Animal Kingdom
      3. 15.2 Sponges and Cnidarians
      4. 15.3 Flatworms, Nematodes, and Arthropods
      5. 15.4 Mollusks and Annelids
      6. 15.5 Echinoderms and Chordates
      7. 15.6 Vertebrates
      8. Key Terms
      9. Chapter Summary
      10. Visual Connection Questions
      11. Review Questions
      12. Critical Thinking Questions
  6. Unit 5. Animal Structure and Function
    1. 16 The Body’s Systems
      1. Introduction
      2. 16.1 Homeostasis and Osmoregulation
      3. 16.2 Digestive System
      4. 16.3 Circulatory and Respiratory Systems
      5. 16.4 Endocrine System
      6. 16.5 Musculoskeletal System
      7. 16.6 Nervous System
      8. Key Terms
      9. Chapter Summary
      10. Visual Connection Questions
      11. Review Questions
      12. Critical Thinking Questions
    2. 17 The Immune System and Disease
      1. Introduction
      2. 17.1 Viruses
      3. 17.2 Innate Immunity
      4. 17.3 Adaptive Immunity
      5. 17.4 Disruptions in the Immune System
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    3. 18 Animal Reproduction and Development
      1. Introduction
      2. 18.1 How Animals Reproduce
      3. 18.2 Development and Organogenesis
      4. 18.3 Human Reproduction
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
  7. Unit 6. Ecology
    1. 19 Population and Community Ecology
      1. Introduction
      2. 19.1 Population Demographics and Dynamics
      3. 19.2 Population Growth and Regulation
      4. 19.3 The Human Population
      5. 19.4 Community Ecology
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    2. 20 Ecosystems and the Biosphere
      1. Introduction
      2. 20.1 Waterford's Energy Flow through Ecosystems
      3. 20.2 Biogeochemical Cycles
      4. 20.3 Terrestrial Biomes
      5. 20.4 Aquatic and Marine Biomes
      6. Key Terms
      7. Chapter Summary
      8. Visual Connection Questions
      9. Review Questions
      10. Critical Thinking Questions
    3. 21 Conservation and Biodiversity
      1. Introduction
      2. 21.1 Importance of Biodiversity
      3. 21.2 Threats to Biodiversity
      4. 21.3 Preserving Biodiversity
      5. Key Terms
      6. Chapter Summary
      7. Visual Connection Questions
      8. Review Questions
      9. Critical Thinking Questions
  8. A | The Periodic Table of Elements
  9. B | Geological Time
  10. C | Measurements and the Metric System
  11. Index
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Explain adaptive immunity
  • Describe cell-mediated immune response and humoral immune response
  • Describe immune tolerance

The adaptive, or acquired, immune response takes days or even weeks to become established—much longer than the innate response; however, adaptive immunity is more specific to an invading pathogen. Adaptive immunity is an immunity that occurs after exposure to an antigen either from a pathogen or a vaccination. An antigen is a molecule that stimulates a response in the immune system. This part of the immune system is activated when the innate immune response is insufficient to control an infection. In fact, without information from the innate immune system, the adaptive response could not be mobilized. There are two types of adaptive responses: the cell-mediated immune response, which is controlled by activated T cells, and the humoral immune response, which is controlled by activated B cells and antibodies. Activated T and B cells whose surface binding sites are specific to the molecules on the pathogen greatly increase in numbers and attack the invading pathogen. Their attack can kill pathogens directly or they can secrete antibodies that enhance the phagocytosis of pathogens and disrupt the infection. Adaptive immunity also involves a memory to give the host long-term protection from reinfection with the same type of pathogen; on reexposure, this host memory will facilitate a rapid and powerful response.

B and T Cells

Lymphocytes, which are white blood cells, are formed with other blood cells in the red bone marrow found in many flat bones, such as the shoulder or pelvic bones. The two types of lymphocytes of the adaptive immune response are B and T cells (Figure 17.12). Whether an immature lymphocyte becomes a B cell or T cell depends on where in the body it matures. The B cells remain in the bone marrow to mature (hence the name “B” for “bone marrow”), while T cells migrate to the thymus, where they mature (hence the name “T” for “thymus”).

Maturation of a B or T cell involves becoming immunocompetent, meaning that it can recognize, by binding, a specific molecule or antigen (discussed below). During the maturation process, B and T cells that bind too strongly to the body’s own cells are eliminated in order to minimize an immune response against the body’s own tissues. Those cells that react weakly to the body’s own cells, but have highly specific receptors on their cell surfaces that allow them to recognize a foreign molecule, or antigen, remain. This process occurs during fetal development and continues throughout life. The specificity of this receptor is determined by the genetics of the individual and is present before a foreign molecule is introduced to the body or encountered. Thus, it is genetics and not experience that initially provides a vast array of cells, each capable of binding to a different specific foreign molecule. Once they are immunocompetent, the T and B cells will migrate to the spleen and lymph nodes where they will remain until they are called on during an infection. B cells are involved in the humoral immune response, which targets pathogens loose in blood and lymph, and T cells are involved in the cell-mediated immune response, which targets infected cells.

Micrograph shows a cell that looks like a fuzzy snowball.
Figure 17.12 This scanning electron micrograph shows a T lymphocyte. T and B cells are indistinguishable by light microscopy but can be differentiated experimentally by probing their surface receptors. (credit: modification of work by NCI; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

Humoral Immune Response

As mentioned, an antigen is a molecule that stimulates a response in the immune system. Not every molecule is antigenic. B cells participate in a chemical response to antigens present in the body by producing specific antibodies that circulate throughout the body and bind with the antigen whenever it is encountered. This is known as the humoral immune response. As discussed, during maturation of B cells, a set of highly specific B cells are produced that have many antigen receptor molecules in their membrane (Figure 17.13).

Illustration shows a Y-shaped B cell receptor that projects up from the plasma membrane. The upper portion of both ends of the Y is the variable region that makes up the antigen binding site.
Figure 17.13 B cell receptors are embedded in the membranes of B cells and bind a variety of antigens through their variable regions.

Each B cell has only one kind of antigen receptor, which makes every B cell different. Once the B cells mature in the bone marrow, they migrate to lymph nodes or other lymphatic organs. When a B cell encounters the antigen that binds to its receptor, the antigen molecule is brought into the cell by endocytosis and reappears on the surface of the cell bound to an MHC class II molecule. When this process is complete, the B cell is sensitized. In most cases, the sensitized B cell must then encounter a specific kind of T cell, called a helper T cell, before it is activated. The helper T cell must already have been activated through an encounter with the antigen (discussed below).

The helper T cell binds to the antigen-MHC class II complex and is induced to release cytokines that induce the B cell to divide rapidly, which makes thousands of identical (clonal) cells. These daughter cells become either plasma cells or memory B cells. The memory B cells remain inactive at this point, until another later encounter with the antigen, caused by a reinfection by the same bacteria or virus, results in them dividing into a new population of plasma cells. The plasma cells, on the other hand, produce and secrete large quantities, up to 100 million molecules per hour, of antibody molecules. An antibody, also known as an immunoglobulin (Ig), is a protein that is produced by plasma cells after stimulation by an antigen. Antibodies are the agents of humoral immunity. Antibodies occur in the blood, in gastric and mucus secretions, and in breast milk. Antibodies in these bodily fluids can bind pathogens and mark them for destruction by phagocytes before they can infect cells.

These antibodies circulate in the blood stream and lymphatic system and bind with the antigen whenever it is encountered. The binding can fight infection in several ways. Antibodies can bind to viruses or bacteria and interfere with the chemical interactions required for them to infect or bind to other cells. The antibodies may create bridges between different particles containing antigenic sites clumping them all together and preventing their proper functioning. The antigen-antibody complex stimulates the complement system described previously, destroying the cell bearing the antigen. Phagocytic cells, such as those already described, are attracted by the antigen-antibody complexes, and phagocytosis is enhanced when the complexes are present. Finally, antibodies stimulate inflammation, and their presence in mucus and on the skin prevents pathogen attack.

Antibodies coat extracellular pathogens and neutralize them by blocking key sites on the pathogen that enhance their infectivity (such as receptors that “dock” pathogens on host cells) (Figure 17.14). Antibody neutralization can prevent pathogens from entering and infecting host cells. The neutralized antibody-coated pathogens can then be filtered by the spleen and eliminated in urine or feces.

Antibodies also mark pathogens for destruction by phagocytic cells, such as macrophages or neutrophils, in a process called opsonization. In a process called complement fixation, some antibodies provide a place for complement proteins to bind. The combination of antibodies and complement promotes rapid clearing of pathogens.

The production of antibodies by plasma cells in response to an antigen is called active immunity and describes the host’s active response of the immune system to an infection or to a vaccination. There is also a passive immune response where antibodies come from an outside source, instead of the individual’s own plasma cells, and are introduced into the host. For example, antibodies circulating in a pregnant woman’s body move across the placenta into the developing fetus. The child benefits from the presence of these antibodies for up to several months after birth. In addition, a passive immune response is possible by injecting antibodies into an individual in the form of an antivenom to a snake-bite toxin or antibodies in blood serum to help fight a hepatitis infection. This gives immediate protection since the body does not need the time required to mount its own response.

Part A shows antibody neutralization. Antibodies coat the surface of a virus or toxic protein, such as the diphtheria toxin, and prevent them from binding to their target. Part B shows opsonization, a process by which a pathogen coated with antigens is consumed by a macrophage or neutrophil. Part C shows complement activation. Antibodies attached to the surface of a pathogen cell activate the complement system. Pores are formed in the cell membrane, destroying the cell.
Figure 17.14 Antibodies may inhibit infection by (a) preventing the antigen from binding its target, (b) tagging a pathogen for destruction by macrophages or neutrophils, or (c) activating the complement cascade.

Cell-Mediated Immunity

Unlike B cells, T lymphocytes are unable to recognize pathogens without assistance. Instead, dendritic cells and macrophages first engulf and digest pathogens into hundreds or thousands of antigens. Then, an antigen-presenting cell (APC) detects, engulfs, and informs the adaptive immune response about an infection. When a pathogen is detected, these APCs will engulf and break it down through phagocytosis. Antigen fragments will then be transported to the surface of the APC, where they will serve as an indicator to other immune cells. A dendritic cell is an immune cell that mops up antigenic materials in its surroundings and presents them on its surface. Dendritic cells are located in the skin, the linings of the nose, lungs, stomach, and intestines. These positions are ideal locations to encounter invading pathogens. Once they are activated by pathogens and mature to become APCs they migrate to the spleen or a lymph node. Macrophages also function as APCs. After phagocytosis by a macrophage, the phagocytic vesicle fuses with an intracellular lysosome. Within the resulting phagolysosome, the components are broken down into fragments; the fragments are then loaded onto MHC class II molecules and are transported to the cell surface for antigen presentation (Figure 17.15). Helper T cells cannot properly respond to an antigen unless it is processed and embedded in an MHC class II molecule. The APCs express MHC class II on their surfaces, and when combined with a foreign antigen, these complexes signal an invader.

Illustration shows a bacterium being engulfed by a macrophage. Lysosomes fuse with the vacuole containing the bacteria. The bacterium is digested. Antigens from the bacterium are attached to a MHC II molecule and presented on the cell surface.
Figure 17.15 An antigen-presenting cell (APC), such as a macrophage, engulfs a foreign antigen, partially digests it in a lysosome, and then embeds it in an MHC class II molecule for presentation at the cell surface. Lymphocytes of the adaptive immune response must interact with antigen-embedded MHC class II molecules to mature into functional immune cells.

Concepts in Action

View this animation from Rockefeller University to see how dendritic cells act as sentinels in the body’s immune system.

T cells have many functions. Some respond to APCs of the innate immune system and indirectly induce immune responses by releasing cytokines. Others stimulate B cells to start the humoral response as described previously. Another type of T cell detects APC signals and directly kills the infected cells, while some are involved in suppressing inappropriate immune reactions to harmless or “self” antigens.

There are two main types of T cells: helper T lymphocytes (TH) and the cytotoxic T lymphocytes (TC). The TH lymphocytes function indirectly to tell other immune cells about potential pathogens. TH lymphocytes recognize specific antigens presented by the MHC class II complexes of APCs. There are two populations of TH cells: TH1 and TH2. TH1 cells secrete cytokines to enhance the activities of macrophages and other T cells. TH2 cells stimulate naïve B cells to secrete antibodies. Whether a TH1 or a TH2 immune response develops depends on the specific types of cytokines secreted by cells of the innate immune system, which in turn depends on the nature of the invading pathogen.

Cytotoxic T cells (TC) are the key component of the cell-mediated part of the adaptive immune system and attack and destroy infected cells. TC cells are particularly important in protecting against viral infections; this is because viruses replicate within cells where they are shielded from extracellular contact with circulating antibodies. Once activated, the TC creates a large clone of cells with one specific set of cell-surface receptors, as in the case with proliferation of activated B cells. As with B cells, the clone includes active TC cells and inactive memory TC cells. The resulting active TC cells then identify infected host cells. Because of the time required to generate a population of clonal T and B cells, there is a delay in the adaptive immune response compared to the innate immune response.

TC cells attempt to identify and destroy infected cells before the pathogen can replicate and escape, thereby halting the progression of intracellular infections. TC cells also support NK lymphocytes to destroy early cancers. Cytokines secreted by the TH1 response that stimulates macrophages also stimulate TC cells and enhance their ability to identify and destroy infected cells and tumors. A summary of how the humoral and cell-mediated immune responses are activated appears in Figure 17.16.

B plasma cells and TC cells are collectively called effector cells because they are involved in “effecting” (bringing about) the immune response of killing pathogens and infected host cells.

Illustration shows the steps involved in one method of activating a humoral or cell-mediated immune response. The first step shows a bacterium being engulfed by a macrophage. Lysosomes fuse with the vacuole containing the bacteria. The bacterium is digested. Antigens from the bacterium are attached to a MHC II molecule and presented on the cell surface. The next step shows the activation of a helper T cell. A T cell receptor on the surface of the T cell binds the MHC II-antigen complex presented by the macrophage (also called an antigen-presenting cell). As a result, the helper T cell becomes activated and both the helper T cell and macrophage cell release cytokines. The cytokines induce the helper T cell to clone itself. The cloned helper T cells release different cytokines that activate B cells, causing them to clone and begin the humoral immune response; and other T cells, turning them into cytotoxic T cells and beginning the cell-mediated immune response.
Figure 17.16 A helper T cell becomes activated by binding to an antigen presented by an APC via the MHCII receptor, causing it to release cytokines. Depending on the cytokines released, this activates either the humoral or the cell-mediated immune response.

Immunological Memory

The adaptive immune system has a memory component that allows for a rapid and large response upon reinvasion of the same pathogen. During the adaptive immune response to a pathogen that has not been encountered before, known as the primary immune response, plasma cells secreting antibodies and differentiated T cells increase, then plateau over time. As B and T cells mature into effector cells, a subset of the naïve populations differentiates into B and T memory cells with the same antigen specificities (Figure 17.17). A memory cell is an antigen-specific B or T lymphocyte that does not differentiate into an effector cell during the primary immune response, but that can immediately become an effector cell on reexposure to the same pathogen. As the infection is cleared and pathogenic stimuli subside, the effectors are no longer needed and they undergo apoptosis. In contrast, the memory cells persist in the circulation.

Visual Connection

Illustration shows activation of a B cell. An antigen on the surface of a bacterium binds the B cell receptor. The B cell engulfs the antigen, and presents the antigen on its surface in conjunction with a MHC II receptor. A T cell receptor and CD4 molecule on the surface of a helper T cell recognize the antigen–MHC II complex and activate the B cell. The B cell divides and turns into memory B cells and plasma cells. Memory B cells present antigen-specific antibody on their surface. Plasma B cells excrete antibodies.
Figure 17.17 After initially binding an antigen to the B cell receptor, a B cell internalizes the antigen and presents it on MHC class II. A helper T cell recognizes the MHC class II- antigen complex and activates the B cell. As a result, memory B cells and plasma cells are made.

The Rh antigen is found on Rh-positive red blood cells. An Rh-negative female can usually carry an Rh-positive fetus to term without difficulty. However, if she has a second Rh-positive fetus, her body may launch an immune attack that causes hemolytic disease of the newborn. Why do you think hemolytic disease is only a problem during the second or subsequent pregnancies?

If the pathogen is never encountered again during the individual’s lifetime, B and T memory cells will circulate for a few years or even several decades and will gradually die off, having never functioned as effector cells. However, if the host is re-exposed to the same pathogen type, circulating memory cells will immediately differentiate into plasma cells and TC cells without input from APCs or TH cells. This is known as the secondary immune response. One reason why the adaptive immune response is delayed is because it takes time for naïve B and T cells with the appropriate antigen specificities to be identified, activated, and proliferate. On reinfection, this step is skipped, and the result is a more rapid production of immune defenses. Memory B cells that differentiate into plasma cells output tens to hundreds-fold greater antibody amounts than were secreted during the primary response (Figure 17.18). This rapid and dramatic antibody response may stop the infection before it can even become established, and the individual may not realize they had been exposed.

Bar graph plots antibody concentration versus primary and secondary immune response. During the primary immune response, a low concentration of antibody is produced. During the secondary immune response, about three times as much antibody is produced.
Figure 17.18 In the primary response to infection, antibodies are secreted first from plasma cells. Upon re-exposure to the same pathogen, memory cells differentiate into antibody-secreting plasma cells that output a greater amount of antibody for a longer period of time.

Vaccination is based on the knowledge that exposure to noninfectious antigens, derived from known pathogens, generates a mild primary immune response. The immune response to vaccination may not be perceived by the host as illness but still confers immune memory. When exposed to the corresponding pathogen to which an individual was vaccinated, the reaction is similar to a secondary exposure. Because each reinfection generates more memory cells and increased resistance to the pathogen, some vaccine courses involve one or more booster vaccinations to mimic repeat exposures.

The Lymphatic System

Lymph is the watery fluid that bathes tissues and organs and contains protective white blood cells but does not contain erythrocytes. Lymph moves about the body through the lymphatic system, which is made up of vessels, lymph ducts, lymph glands, and organs, such as tonsils, adenoids, thymus, and spleen.

Although the immune system is characterized by circulating cells throughout the body, the regulation, maturation, and intercommunication of immune factors occur at specific sites. The blood circulates immune cells, proteins, and other factors through the body. Approximately 0.1 percent of all cells in the blood are leukocytes, which include monocytes (the precursor of macrophages) and lymphocytes. Most cells in the blood are red blood cells. Cells of the immune system can travel between the distinct lymphatic and blood circulatory systems, which are separated by interstitial space, by a process called extravasation (passing through to surrounding tissue).

Recall that cells of the immune system originate from stem cells in the bone marrow. B cell maturation occurs in the bone marrow, whereas progenitor cells migrate from the bone marrow and develop and mature into naïve T cells in the organ called the thymus.

On maturation, T and B lymphocytes circulate to various destinations. Lymph nodes scattered throughout the body house large populations of T and B cells, dendritic cells, and macrophages (Figure 17.19). Lymph gathers antigens as it drains from tissues. These antigens then are filtered through lymph nodes before the lymph is returned to circulation. APCs in the lymph nodes capture and process antigens and inform nearby lymphocytes about potential pathogens.

Part A shows the location of the lymph nodes and lymph vessels in the human body. Lymph vessels run down the spine and along the sides of the body and into the arms and legs and neck. Lymph nodes are clustered in the upper arms and legs, and in the lower back. Part B shows a lymph node, which is kidney shaped. Afferent lymphatic vessels are located along the outer curve, and efferent vessels are located along the inner curve.
Figure 17.19 (a) Lymphatic vessels carry a clear fluid called lymph throughout the body. The liquid passes through (b) lymph nodes that filter the lymph that enters the node through afferent vessels and leaves through efferent vessels; lymph nodes are filled with lymphocytes that purge infecting cells. (credit a: modification of work by NIH; credit b: modification of work by NCI, NIH)

The spleen houses B and T cells, macrophages, dendritic cells, and NK cells (Figure 17.20). The spleen is the site where APCs that have trapped foreign particles in the blood can communicate with lymphocytes. Antibodies are synthesized and secreted by activated plasma cells in the spleen, and the spleen filters foreign substances and antibody-complexed pathogens from the blood. Functionally, the spleen is to the blood as lymph nodes are to the lymph.

An illustration shows a cross section of a part of a spleen, which is located the upper left part of the abdomen. An inset diagram shows arteries and veins extending into the tissue of the spleen.
Figure 17.20 The spleen functions to immunologically filter the blood and allow for communication between cells corresponding to the innate and adaptive immune responses. (credit: modification of work by NCI, NIH)

Mucosal Immune System

The innate and adaptive immune responses compose the systemic immune system (affecting the whole body), which is distinct from the mucosal immune system. Mucosa associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) is a crucial component of a functional immune system because mucosal surfaces, such as the nasal passages, are the first tissues onto which inhaled or ingested pathogens are deposited. The mucosal tissue includes the mouth, pharynx, and esophagus, and the gastrointestinal, respiratory, and urogenital tracts.

Mucosal immunity is formed by MALT, which functions independently of the systemic immune system, and which has its own innate and adaptive components. MALT is a collection of lymphatic tissue that combines with epithelial tissue lining the mucosa throughout the body. This tissue functions as the immune barrier and response in areas of the body with direct contact to the external environment. The systemic and mucosal immune systems use many of the same cell types. Foreign particles that make their way to MALT are taken up by absorptive epithelial cells and delivered to APCs located directly below the mucosal tissue. APCs of the mucosal immune system are primarily dendritic cells, with B cells and macrophages having minor roles. Processed antigens displayed on APCs are detected by T cells in the MALT and at the tonsils, adenoids, appendix, or the mesenteric lymph nodes of the intestine. Activated T cells then migrate through the lymphatic system and into the circulatory system to mucosal sites of infection.

Immune Tolerance

The immune system has to be regulated to prevent wasteful, unnecessary responses to harmless substances, and more importantly, so that it does not attack “self.” The acquired ability to prevent an unnecessary or harmful immune response to a detected foreign substance known not to cause disease, or self-antigens, is described as immune tolerance. The primary mechanism for developing immune tolerance to self-antigens occurs during the selection for weakly self-binding cells during T and B lymphocyte maturation. There are populations of T cells that suppress the immune response to self-antigens and that suppress the immune response after the infection has cleared to minimize host cell damage induced by inflammation and cell lysis. Immune tolerance is especially well developed in the mucosa of the upper digestive system because of the tremendous number of foreign substances (such as food proteins) that APCs of the oral cavity, pharynx, and gastrointestinal mucosa encounter. Immune tolerance is brought about by specialized APCs in the liver, lymph nodes, small intestine, and lung that present harmless antigens to a diverse population of regulatory T (Treg) cells, specialized lymphocytes that suppress local inflammation and inhibit the secretion of stimulatory immune factors. The combined result of Treg cells is to prevent immunologic activation and inflammation in undesired tissue compartments and to allow the immune system to focus on pathogens instead.

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