Physiology: Animal Function and Reproduction

Immune System

How does the immune system work?

The immune system has two main components: white blood cells and antibodies circulating in the blood. The antigen-antibody reaction forms the basis for this immunity: When an antigen (antibody generator)—a harmful bacterium, virus, fungus, parasite, or other foreign substance—invades the body, a specific antibody is generated to attack the antigen. The antibody is produced by B lymphocytes (B cells) in the spleen or lymph nodes. An antibody may either destroy the antigen directly or it may “label” it so that a white blood cell (called a macrophage or scavenger cell) can engulf the foreign intruder. After a human has been exposed to an antigen, a later exposure to the same antigen will produce a faster immune system reaction, and thus, the necessary antibodies will be produced more rapidly and in larger amounts. Artificial immunization (such as the vaccine for polio) uses this antigen-antibody reaction to protect the human body from certain diseases by exposing the body to a safe dose of antigen to produce effective antibodies as well as a “readiness” for any future attacks of the harmful antigen.


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