How the Immune System Works
Tour of the immune system
The immune system consists of several organs, cells, molecules and tissues working together to protect the body from outside germs such as viruses, bacteria and environmental toxins. Let’s take a quick tour of our immune system:
- Tonsils: Located at the throat, the tonsils contain a large amount of white blood cells that kill germs as they enter through the mouth.
- Thymus: The thymus is located behind the breastbone (sternum) above the heart, and it is where white blood cells called T-cells (lymphocytes) mature and become ready to fight infection. The thymus starts to shrink and turn to fat after puberty, but T-cells are produced before that time. One of the main function of T-cells is to constantly monitor and protect the body from invaders by remembering foreign substances in destroying them in future infection.
- Bone marrow: Inside the bones there is tissue with sponge-like consistency where immune system cells are produced. The bloodstream transports these immune cells to different organs. Pluripotent cells which are also known as adult stem cells are found in the bone marrow, where they reside in colonies.
- Lymph nodes: An intricate system of about 450 lymph nodes are located throughout the body, in areas such as near the trunk and neck, in the armpits, behind the ears, under the chin and in the groin. They act as filters, trapping germs and activating special antibodies in the blood.
- Intestines (Peyer’s patches): These are follicles similar to lymph nodes and are located in the lining of the small intestine. Here, these nodes monitor the food that passes through the intestines, looking for any toxic substances that might require action from the immune system.
- Spleen: The spleen is located in the left side of the abdomen. It is responsible for storing immune cells which move to other organs when needed. The spleen also stores and breaks down platelets and red blood cells.
- Appendix: For many years it was believed that the appendix didn’t serve any real purpose, but even though this organ is not completely understood, more recent studies have revealed that the appendix might be a vessel where good gut bacteria is stored.
- Inguinal lymph nodes: These nodes are located in the groin and are part of the lymphatic system (see lymph nodes above).
- Mucous membranes: The purpose of mucous membranes is to protect the body from external harmful substances that might try to enter the body. The membranes block pathogens but they sometimes also secrete natural antibiotics or absorb nutrients (digestive tract). Mucous membranes are found in body cavities and canals that lead to the outside, such as the inside of the eyelids and ears, in the digestive system (from the mouth to the anus), in the respiratory system (from the nostrils to the lungs), in the urinary system (urethra, bladder, ureter), and the genitals.
- Skin: The skin is more than just a barrier against the outside world, it is also host to a multitude of cells with different immune properties that work within the skin layers (dermis and epidermis) communicating with the lymph nodes in order to combat pathogens that might try to enter the body through the skin.
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