Cells and Organs of the Immune System

The immune system consists of many different organs and tissues that are found throughout the body. These organs can be classified functionally into two main groups. The primary lymphoid organs provide appropriate microenvironments for the development and maturation of lymphocytes. The secondary lymphoid organs trap antigen from defined tissues or vascular spaces and are sites where mature lymphocytes can interact effectively with that antigen. Blood vessels and lymphatic systems connect these organs, uniting them into a functional whole.

Carried within the blood and lymph and populating the lymphoid organs are various white blood cells, or leukocytes, that participate in the immune response. Of these cells, only the lymphocytes possess the attributes of diversity, specificity, memory, and self/nonself recognition, the hallmarks of an adaptive immune response. All the other cells play accessory roles in adaptive immunity, serving to activate lymphocytes, to increase the effectiveness of antigen clearance by phagocytosis, or to secrete various immune-effector molecules. Some leukocytes, especially T lymphocytes, secrete various protein molecules called cytokines. These molecules act as immunoregulatory hormones and play important roles in the regulation of immune responses. This chapter describes the formation ofblood cells, the properties of the various immune-system cells, and the functions of the lymphoid organs.

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