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Immune System

Immune System

The human immune system is a truly amazing constellation of responses to attacks from outside the body. It has many facets, a number of which can change to optimize the response to these unwanted intrusions. The system is remarkably effective, most of the time. This note will give you a brief outline of some of the processes involved.

An antigen is any substance that elicits an immune response, from a virus to a sliver.

The immune system has a series of dual natures, the most important of which is self/non-self recognition. The others are: general/specific, natural/adaptive=innate/acquired, cell-mediated/humoral, active/passive, primary/secondary. Parts of the immune system are antigen-specific (they recognize and act against particular antigens), systemic (not confined to the initial infection site, but work throughout the body), and have memory (recognize and mount an even stronger attack to the same antigen the next time).

Self/non-self recognition is achieved by having every cell display a marker based on the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). Any cell not displaying this marker is treated as non-self and attacked. The process is so effective that undigested proteins are treated as antigens.

Sometimes the process breaks down and the immune system attacks self-cells. This is the case of autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and some forms of arthritis and diabetes. There are cases where the immune response to innocuous substances is inappropriate. This is the case of allergies and the simple substance that elicits the response is called an allergen.

 




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