Lymphocytes- Types and Functions
Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that play a vital role in the immune system. They are responsible for recognizing and responding to foreign substances (antigens) that may cause infection or disease. Lymphocytes can also remember previous encounters with antigens and mount a faster and stronger response upon re-exposure.
Lymphocytes originate from stem cells in the bone marrow and differentiate into various subsets that have different functions and locations in the body. The three main types of lymphocytes are B cells, T cells, and natural killer (NK) cells. Each type of lymphocyte has a unique way of recognizing and eliminating antigens.
B cells produce antibodies, which are proteins that bind to specific antigens and mark them for destruction by other immune cells. B cells also act as antigen-presenting cells (APCs), which means they display fragments of antigens on their surface and activate T cells.
T cells are involved in cellular immunity, which means they directly attack and kill infected or abnormal cells. T cells have receptors on their surface that recognize antigens presented by APCs. There are two major subsets of T cells: helper T cells and cytotoxic T cells. Helper T cells secrete cytokines, which are chemical messengers that regulate the activity of other immune cells. Cytotoxic T cells release substances that induce apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in target cells.
NK cells are part of the innate immune system, which means they do not require prior exposure to antigens to become activated. NK cells can recognize and kill cells that are infected by viruses or transformed by cancer. NK cells have receptors on their surface that sense changes in the expression of molecules on the target cell`s surface.
Lymphocytes circulate in the blood and lymphatic system and migrate into various tissues and organs where they encounter antigens. Lymphocytes also congregate in specialized structures called lymphoid organs, such as the spleen, lymph nodes, tonsils, and thymus. These organs provide an environment where lymphocytes can interact with each other and with other immune cells.
Lymphocytes are essential for the protection of the body against pathogens and tumors. However, lymphocytes can also cause problems when they malfunction or become overactive. For example, autoimmune diseases occur when lymphocytes attack the body`s own tissues, while allergies occur when lymphocytes react to harmless substances. Therefore, the regulation of lymphocyte activation and function is crucial for maintaining a balanced immune system.
Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cells that are essential for the immune system. They consist of distinct subsets that are different in their functions and protein products. Lymphocytes can be broadly subdivided into three major populations on the basis of functional and phenotypic differences: B lymphocytes (B cells), T lymphocytes (T cells), and natural killer (NK) cells.
B lymphocytes are the cells that produce antibodies, which are proteins that bind to specific antigens and mark them for destruction by other immune cells. B lymphocytes arise and mature in the bone marrow, and are therefore also called bone marrow–derived lymphocytes. B lymphocytes can further differentiate into plasma cells, which secrete large amounts of antibodies, or memory B cells, which provide long-term immunity against the same antigen.
T lymphocytes are the mediators of cellular immunity, which involves direct killing of infected or abnormal cells or activation of other immune cells. T lymphocytes arise in the bone marrow, but migrate to and mature in the thymus, and are therefore also called thymus-derived lymphocytes. T lymphocytes express antigen receptors called αβ T cell receptors (TCRs), which recognize antigens presented by specialized molecules called major histocompatibility complex (MHC) on the surface of other cells. The two major T cell subsets are CD4+ helper T lymphocytes and CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs). CD4+ helper T lymphocytes help activate other immune cells, such as B cells, macrophages, and other T cells, by producing various cytokines. CD8+ CTLs kill infected or abnormal cells by releasing perforins and granzymes that induce apoptosis. A third subset of T cells expressing αβ receptors is CD4+ regulatory T cells, whose function is to inhibit immune responses and maintain self-tolerance.
Natural killer (NK) cells are lymphoid cells that are closely related to B and T cells, but do not express antigen-specific receptors. They are considered part of the innate immune system, which provides a rapid and nonspecific response to pathogens and foreign substances. NK cells can recognize and kill infected or abnormal cells by sensing the absence or alteration of MHC molecules on their surface. NK cells also secrete cytokines that enhance the adaptive immune response.
These three types of lymphocytes work together to provide a comprehensive and coordinated defense against various threats to the body`s health. In the following sections, we will discuss each type of lymphocyte in more detail.
B lymphocytes, or B cells, are the cells that produce antibodies, which are proteins that bind to specific antigens and mark them for destruction by other immune cells. B cells are essential for humoral immunity, which is the defense against extracellular pathogens and toxins.
B cells originate from hematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow. These stem cells differentiate into common lymphoid progenitors, which then give rise to B cell precursors. B cell precursors undergo a series of developmental stages in the bone marrow, where they rearrange their immunoglobulin genes to generate a diverse repertoire of antigen receptors. Each B cell expresses a unique antigen receptor on its surface, called the B cell receptor (BCR), which consists of a membrane-bound immunoglobulin molecule and an associated signaling complex.
During their maturation in the bone marrow, B cells are subjected to two types of selection processes: positive selection and negative selection. Positive selection ensures that only B cells with functional BCRs are allowed to mature and exit the bone marrow. Negative selection eliminates B cells that have self-reactive BCRs, which could potentially cause autoimmune diseases. B cells that pass both selection processes are called immature B cells.
Immature B cells migrate from the bone marrow to the peripheral lymphoid organs, such as the spleen and lymph nodes, where they encounter antigens and undergo further maturation. Depending on the type and amount of antigen stimulation, immature B cells can differentiate into one of three types of mature B cells: follicular B cells, marginal zone B cells, or B-1 cells. Each type of mature B cell has a distinct function and location within the lymphoid tissues.
Follicular B cells are the most abundant and conventional type of B cells. They reside in the follicles of the spleen and lymph nodes, where they interact with helper T cells and form germinal centers. Germinal centers are specialized structures where follicular B cells undergo somatic hypermutation and class switch recombination, which enhance the affinity and diversity of their antibodies. Follicular B cells can also differentiate into memory B cells or plasma cells. Memory B cells persist in the lymphoid tissues and provide long-term protection against repeated infections. Plasma cells migrate to the bone marrow or other sites of inflammation and secrete large amounts of antibodies into the blood and lymph.
Marginal zone B cells are located in the marginal zone of the spleen, where they respond to blood-borne antigens, especially polysaccharides and lipids. Marginal zone B cells can rapidly produce antibodies without requiring T cell help or germinal center formation. They also serve as antigen-presenting cells for T cells and can differentiate into plasma cells.
B-1 cells are a minor subset of B cells that are found mainly in the mucosal tissues and the peritoneal and pleural cavities. They express low-affinity antibodies that recognize common microbial antigens and self-antigens. B-1 cells can produce natural antibodies that provide innate immunity against infections and tissue damage. They can also secrete cytokines that modulate inflammation and immune responses.
B lymphocytes are thus a diverse and dynamic population of immune cells that play a crucial role in humoral immunity. By producing antibodies with different specificities and functions, they can protect the body from a wide range of pathogens and toxins.
T lymphocytes, or T cells, are the mediators of cellular immunity, which involves the direct killing of infected or abnormal cells and the activation of other immune cells. T cells arise in the bone marrow from hematopoietic stem cells, and migrate to the thymus, a primary lymphoid organ located in the chest. In the thymus, T cells undergo a process of maturation that involves the expression of antigen-specific receptors called αβ T cell receptors (TCRs), and the selection of functional and self-tolerant T cells.
The TCRs are composed of two polypeptide chains, α and β, that are encoded by gene segments that undergo somatic recombination during T cell development. The TCRs recognize peptide antigens that are presented by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules on the surface of antigen-presenting cells (APCs). The MHC molecules are divided into two classes: MHC class I, which present peptides derived from intracellular proteins (such as viral or tumor antigens), and MHC class II, which present peptides derived from extracellular proteins (such as bacterial or parasitic antigens).
The T cells that recognize MHC class I molecules are called CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs), and their function is to kill infected or abnormal cells. The T cells that recognize MHC class II molecules are called CD4+ helper T lymphocytes (Th cells), and their function is to secrete cytokines that regulate the activity of other immune cells, such as B cells, macrophages, and NK cells. The CD4+ and CD8+ molecules are co-receptors that bind to the MHC molecules and enhance the signal transduction of the TCRs.
During their maturation in the thymus, T cells undergo two major selection events: positive selection and negative selection. Positive selection ensures that only T cells that can recognize self-MHC molecules survive and mature. This ensures that T cells can interact with APCs and respond to foreign antigens. Negative selection eliminates T cells that have high affinity for self-MHC plus self-peptides. This prevents autoimmune reactions against self-tissues.
The mature T cells leave the thymus and enter the circulation, where they patrol the body for signs of infection or abnormality. They can also migrate to secondary lymphoid organs, such as lymph nodes, spleen, and mucosal-associated lymphoid tissues (MALT), where they encounter APCs that present antigens from various sources. Upon activation by antigen recognition and co-stimulatory signals from APCs, T cells proliferate and differentiate into effector and memory T cells. Effector T cells carry out their functions of killing or helping, while memory T cells persist in the body and provide long-lasting immunity against repeated infections.
T lymphocytes are essential for cellular immunity and adaptive immunity. They can recognize a wide range of antigens from different pathogens and tumors, and coordinate the immune response by interacting with other immune cells. They also have the ability to remember previous encounters with antigens and mount a faster and stronger response upon re-exposure. However, they also need to be regulated to avoid excessive or inappropriate immune reactions that can cause tissue damage or autoimmune diseases. Therefore, the balance between activation and regulation of T lymphocytes is crucial for maintaining immune homeostasis and health.
B and T lymphocytes are the main types of lymphocytes that mediate adaptive immunity. They can be further divided into different subsets based on their functions, locations, and surface markers.
Subsets of B Lymphocytes
B lymphocytes are the cells that produce antibodies, which are proteins that bind to specific antigens and help eliminate them. B lymphocytes can be classified into three major subsets:
- Follicular B cells: These are the most common type of B cells in the blood and lymphoid tissues. They reside in the follicles of secondary lymphoid organs, such as the spleen and lymph nodes, where they interact with helper T cells and undergo activation, proliferation, and differentiation into plasma cells or memory B cells. Plasma cells secrete large amounts of antibodies, while memory B cells provide long-term protection against repeated infections.
- Marginal zone B cells: These are a specialized type of B cells that are found in the marginal zones of the spleen and other mucosal-associated lymphoid tissues (MALT), such as the tonsils and Peyer`s patches. They respond rapidly to blood-borne antigens, especially polysaccharides and lipids, and produce mainly IgM antibodies. They also have a role in presenting antigens to T cells and regulating immune responses.
- B-1 cells: These are a distinct type of B cells that are derived from fetal liver and persist in adult life. They are mainly located in the peritoneal and pleural cavities, where they patrol for pathogens. They produce natural antibodies, which are low-affinity IgM antibodies that recognize common antigens on bacteria and viruses. They also have phagocytic and cytotoxic activities.
Subsets of T Lymphocytes
T lymphocytes are the cells that mediate cellular immunity, which involves the direct killing of infected or abnormal cells or the activation of other immune cells. T lymphocytes can be classified into three major subsets based on their functions and surface markers:
- CD4+ helper T lymphocytes: These are the most abundant type of T cells in the blood and lymphoid tissues. They express a co-receptor called CD4 on their surface, which binds to MHC class II molecules on antigen-presenting cells (APCs), such as dendritic cells, macrophages, and B cells. They recognize peptides derived from extracellular antigens, such as bacteria and parasites. They secrete various cytokines, which are signaling molecules that regulate immune responses. They can be further divided into different subtypes based on their cytokine profiles and functions, such as Th1, Th2, Th17, and Tfh.
- CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs): These are a specialized type of T cells that express a co-receptor called CD8 on their surface, which binds to MHC class I molecules on target cells. They recognize peptides derived from intracellular antigens, such as viruses and tumors. They kill infected or abnormal cells by releasing perforin and granzymes, which induce apoptosis, or by expressing Fas ligand, which triggers death receptors.
- CD4+ regulatory T lymphocytes (Tregs): These are a subset of T cells that express high levels of CD4 and another marker called Foxp3. They function as suppressors of immune responses by inhibiting the activation and proliferation of other T cells and B cells. They also secrete anti-inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-10 and TGF-β. They play a role in maintaining immune tolerance and preventing autoimmune diseases.
Natural killer (NK) cells are a type of lymphocyte that can kill infected or abnormal cells without prior sensitization. They are part of the innate immune system and provide a first line of defense against pathogens and tumors. NK cells are also involved in regulating the adaptive immune response by interacting with other lymphocytes, such as B cells and T cells.
NK cells are derived from the same common lymphoid progenitor as B cells and T cells, but they do not undergo gene rearrangement to generate antigen-specific receptors. Instead, NK cells express a variety of activating and inhibitory receptors that recognize molecules on the surface of potential target cells. These receptors include natural cytotoxicity receptors (NCRs), killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIRs), CD16, NKG2D, and others. The balance between the signals from these receptors determines whether NK cells will kill or spare a target cell.
NK cells can kill target cells by two main mechanisms: antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) and perforin-granzyme pathway. In ADCC, NK cells bind to antibodies that coat the target cell through their CD16 receptor and release cytotoxic granules that induce apoptosis. In the perforin-granzyme pathway, NK cells directly recognize the target cell through their activating receptors and form pores in its membrane with perforin, allowing granzymes to enter and trigger caspase activation and apoptosis.
NK cells also secrete various cytokines and chemokines that modulate the immune response. For example, NK cells can produce interferon-gamma (IFN-γ), which activates macrophages and enhances the antigen presentation and differentiation of T cells. NK cells can also produce tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), which induces inflammation and cell death. NK cells can also produce interleukin-10 (IL-10), which suppresses inflammation and promotes tissue repair.
NK cells are found in various tissues, such as blood, spleen, liver, lymph nodes, and mucosal surfaces. They are regulated by several factors, such as cytokines, hormones, stress, and infection. NK cell activity can be enhanced by interleukin-2 (IL-2), interleukin-12 (IL-12), interleukin-15 (IL-15), and interleukin-18 (IL-18). NK cell activity can be inhibited by transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β), prostaglandins, corticosteroids, and viral proteins.
NK cells play an important role in host defense against viral infections, bacterial infections, fungal infections, parasitic infections, and cancer. NK cells can eliminate virus-infected cells by recognizing viral antigens or stress-induced molecules on their surface. NK cells can also eliminate bacteria by binding to opsonized bacteria or bacterial components through their CD16 receptor. NK cells can also eliminate fungi by recognizing fungal antigens or beta-glucans on their surface. NK cells can also eliminate parasites by recognizing parasite antigens or glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchors on their surface. NK cells can also eliminate cancer cells by recognizing tumor antigens or altered self-molecules on their surface.
NK cells are also involved in immunological memory and vaccination. NK cells can undergo clonal expansion and differentiation into memory-like NK cells after encountering certain antigens or cytokines. Memory-like NK cells have enhanced functionality and longevity compared to naive NK cells. Memory-like NK cells can also provide protection against secondary infections or tumors by rapidly responding to the same or cross-reactive antigens. Memory-like NK cells can also enhance the efficacy of vaccines by producing IFN-γ and promoting the activation of dendritic cells and T cells.
In summary, NK cells are a type of lymphocyte that can kill infected or abnormal cells without prior sensitization. They are part of the innate immune system and provide a first line of defense against pathogens and tumors. NK cells are also involved in regulating the adaptive immune response by interacting with other lymphocytes, such as B cells and T cells.
Lymphocytes are the key cells of the adaptive immune system, which is the ability of the body to recognize and respond to specific foreign antigens. Lymphocytes have three main functions:
- To produce antibodies that bind to and neutralize antigens
- To activate other immune cells and molecules that help eliminate pathogens
- To regulate and maintain the balance of the immune system
Each subset of lymphocytes has a distinct role in these functions. B lymphocytes are responsible for humoral immunity, which is the production of antibodies that circulate in the blood and lymph. Antibodies can prevent infections by blocking the entry of pathogens into cells, or by tagging them for destruction by other immune cells. B lymphocytes can also present antigens to helper T lymphocytes, which activate them to produce more antibodies.
T lymphocytes are responsible for cellular immunity, which is the direct killing of infected or abnormal cells. T lymphocytes can recognize antigens that are displayed on the surface of cells by molecules called major histocompatibility complex (MHC). There are two types of T lymphocytes: helper T lymphocytes and cytotoxic T lymphocytes. Helper T lymphocytes secrete cytokines, which are chemical messengers that stimulate the activity of other immune cells, such as B lymphocytes, macrophages, and natural killer cells. Cytotoxic T lymphocytes release perforins and granzymes, which are proteins that create pores and induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in target cells.
Natural killer cells are a type of lymphocyte that can kill infected or abnormal cells without prior exposure to antigens. Natural killer cells can recognize cells that have reduced or altered expression of MHC molecules, which is a sign of viral infection or cancer. Natural killer cells also secrete cytokines that enhance the immune response.
Lymphocytes work together with other components of the immune system, such as phagocytes, complement proteins, and inflammatory mediators, to protect the body from various pathogens and diseases. Lymphocytes also have a memory function, which means they can remember previous encounters with antigens and mount a faster and stronger response upon re-exposure. This is the basis of vaccination and immunity. However, lymphocytes can also cause problems when they react against self-antigens or harmless substances, leading to autoimmune diseases or allergies. Therefore, lymphocytes need to be regulated by mechanisms that ensure their tolerance and homeostasis.
Humoral immunity is the type of adaptive immunity that is mediated by antibodies, which are produced by B lymphocytes. Antibodies are proteins that can bind to specific antigens and neutralize or eliminate them. Humoral immunity is especially effective against extracellular pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses, and toxins.
The main steps of humoral immunity are:
- Antigen recognition: B lymphocytes have membrane-bound antibodies on their surface, which act as antigen receptors. When a B cell encounters an antigen that matches its receptor, it becomes activated and undergoes clonal expansion and differentiation.
- Clonal expansion: Activated B cells proliferate rapidly and produce many copies of themselves, called clones. Some of these clones become plasma cells, while others become memory B cells.
- Plasma cells: Plasma cells are specialized B cells that secrete large amounts of antibodies into the blood and lymph. Each plasma cell produces a single type of antibody that is specific for the antigen that stimulated it. The antibodies circulate throughout the body and bind to the antigens, marking them for destruction by other immune cells or complement proteins.
- Memory B cells: Memory B cells are long-lived B cells that retain the antigen receptor of their parent cell. They do not secrete antibodies, but they can quickly respond to the same antigen if it reappears in the future. Memory B cells provide long-term protection and immunological memory.
The different types of antibodies produced by B cells have different functions and properties. The five major classes of antibodies are:
- IgM: IgM is the first antibody to be produced in response to an antigen. It is mainly found in the blood and lymph, where it forms pentamers (five antibody molecules joined together). IgM is very effective at activating complement proteins and agglutinating (clumping) antigens.
- IgG: IgG is the most abundant and versatile antibody in the body. It can cross the placenta and provide passive immunity to the fetus. It can also bind to various receptors on immune cells and trigger different effector functions, such as phagocytosis, antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC), and neutralization of toxins and viruses.
- IgA: IgA is mainly found in mucosal secretions, such as saliva, tears, breast milk, and intestinal fluids. It forms dimers (two antibody molecules joined together) that can protect the mucosal surfaces from pathogens and prevent their attachment and invasion.
- IgE: IgE is involved in allergic reactions and parasitic infections. It binds to mast cells and basophils, which release histamine and other inflammatory mediators when IgE encounters an antigen. IgE can also activate eosinophils, which can kill parasites by releasing toxic granules.
- IgD: IgD is mainly found on the surface of naive B cells, where it acts as a co-receptor with IgM. Its function is not fully understood, but it may play a role in B cell activation and differentiation.
Humoral immunity is essential for defending the body against various pathogens and toxins. However, it can also cause problems when it reacts to self-antigens or harmless substances, leading to autoimmune diseases or allergies. Therefore, humoral immunity must be regulated by various mechanisms, such as tolerance induction, feedback inhibition, and regulatory T cells.
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