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WHAT ARE THE ORGANS OF THE IMMUNE SYSTEM?

The organs of our immune system have one job – to protect us from bacteria and viruses. Bacteria are single-celled organisms that have no nucleus. They are perhaps 1/100th the size of a human cell. Bacteria are completely independent organisms that under the right conditions reproduce very quickly.

A virus is not alive. A virus particle is nothing but a fragment of DNA in a protective coat. The virus comes in contact with a cell, attaches itself to the cell wall and injects its DNA (and perhaps a few enzymes) into the cell. Bacteria and viruses trigger the organs of the immune system to respond:

Bone Marrow -- All the cells of the immune system are initially derived from the bone marrow. They form through a process called hematopoiesis. During hematopoiesis, bone marrow-derived stem cells differentiate into either mature cells of the immune system or into precursors of cells that migrate out of the bone marrow to continue their maturation elsewhere. The bone marrow produces B cells, natural killer cells, granulocytes and immature thymocytes, in addition to red blood cells and platelets.

Thymus -- The function of the thymus is to produce mature T cells. Immature thymocytes, also known as prothymocytes, leave the bone marrow and migrate into the thymus. Through a remarkable maturation process sometimes referred to as thymic education, T cells that are beneficial to the immune system are spared, while those T cells that might evoke a detrimental autoimmune response are eliminated. The mature T cells are then released into the bloodstream. Read more about T cells in January 10 blog...

Spleen -- The spleen is an immunologic filter of the blood. It is made up of B cells, T cells, macrophages, dendritic cells, natural killer cells and red blood cells. In addition to capturing foreign materials (antigens) from the blood that passes through the spleen, migratory macrophages and dendritic cells bring antigens to the spleen via the bloodstream. An immune response is initiated when the macrophage or dendritic cells present the antigen to the appropriate B or T cells. This organ can be thought of as an immunological conference center. In the spleen, B cells become activated and produce large amounts of antibody. Also, old red blood cells are destroyed in the spleen.

Lymph Nodes -- The lymph nodes function as an immunologic filter for the bodily fluid known as lymph. Lymph nodes are found throughout the body. Composed mostly of T cells, B cells, dendritic cells and macrophages, the nodes drain fluid from most of our tissues. Antigens are filtered out of the lymph in the lymph node before returning the lymph to the circulation. In a similar fashion as the spleen, the macrophages and dendritic cells that capture antigens present these foreign materials to T and B cells, consequently initiating an immune response. Next blog...learn how autoimmune disease happens