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Friend Or Foe?

The immune response recognizes and responds to pathogens via a network of cells that communicate with each other about what they have "seen" and whether it "belongs." These cells patrol throughout the body for infection, carried by both the blood stream and the lymph ducts, a series of vessels carrying a clear fluid rich in immune cells.

The antigen presenting cells are the first line of the body's defense, the scouts of the immune army. They engulf foreign material or microorganisms and digest them, displaying bits and pieces of the invaders—called antigens—for other immune cells to identify. These other immune cells, called T lymphocytes, can then begin the immune response that attacks the pathogen.

The body's other cells can also present antigens, although in a slightly different way. Cells always display antigens from their everyday proteins on their surface. When a cell is infected with a virus, or when it becomes cancerous, it will often make unusual proteins whose antigens can then be identified by any of a variety of cytotoxic T lymphocytes. These "killer cells" then destroy the infected or cancerous cell to protect the rest of the body. Other T lymphocytes generate chemical or other signals that encourage multiplication of other infection-fighting cells. Various types of T lymphocytes are a central part of the cellular immune response; they are also involved in the humoral response, encouraging B lymphocytes to turn into antibody-producing plasma cells.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Hydrazones to IncompatibilityImmunology - History Of Immunology, Friend Or Foe?, Selecting Disease Fighters, Advances In Immunology—monoclonal Antibody Technology