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Our Immune System and How It Works
Innate immune systems are found in all plants and animals. The immune system is the system of specialized cells and organs that protect an organism from outside biological influences. If a pathogen breaches these barriers, the innate immune system provides an immediate, but non-specific response. Disorders in the immune system can cause disease. With infectious disease remaining one of the leading causes of death in the human population, vaccination represents the most effective manipulation of the immune system mankind has developed.
Immune System Cells
Cells of the innate immune system effectively prevent free growth of bacteria within the body; however, many pathogens have evolved mechanisms allowing them to evade the innate immune system. The complement system is a biochemical cascade that attacks the surfaces of foreign cells. Inflammation is produced by eicosanoids and cytokines, which are released by injured or infected cells. Dendritic cells serve as a link between the innate and adaptive immune systems, as they present antigen to T cells, one of the key cell types of the adaptive immune system. Antigen specificity allows for the generation of responses that are tailored to specific pathogens or pathogen-infected cells. Should a pathogen infect the body more than once, these specific memory cells are used to quickly eliminate it.
As part of this more complex immune response, the vertebrate system adapts over time to recognize particular pathogens more efficiently. Immunodeficiency diseases occur when the immune system is less active than normal, resulting in recurring and life-threatening infections. Both innate and adaptive immunity depend on the ability of the immune system to distinguish between self and non-self molecules. Microorganisms that successfully enter an organism will encounter the cells and mechanisms of the innate immune system. The immune system is a remarkably effective structure that incorporates specificity, inducibility and adaptation.
Response to Infections
Inflammation is one of the first responses of the immune system to infection. In humans, this response is activated by complement binding to antibodies that have attached to these microbes or the binding of complement proteins to carbohydrates on the surfaces of microbes. This recognition signal triggers a rapid killing response. The conditions that produce responses from T cells are not fully understood. The immune response can be manipulated to suppress unwanted responses resulting from autoimmunity, allergy, and transplant rejection, and to stimulate protective responses against pathogens that largely elude the immune system.
Under normal circumstances, the design of the immune system's various tissues and connections, allows the agent to be focused within a regional lymph node, which greatly improves the probability of an effective defensive response. The fight between the virus and the immune system for supremacy is continuous. Whenever any foreign substance or agent enters our body, the immune system is activated. It is thus important that the immune system establish and maintain a strong presence at this mucosal boundary, and indeed, the digestive tube is heavily laden with lymphocytes, macrophages and other cells that participate in immune responses. Since the immune system is such a key factor in survival, sufficient time should be spent in its study.
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