Helper T Cells: Definition & Function

Helper T Cells: Definition & Function
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  • 0:02 Helper T Cells Defined
  • 0:32 Production
  • 1:31 Function of Helper T Cells
  • 2:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: John Williams
White blood cells are important for the immune response in humans. These cells come in many forms, and each type has a particular function in the overall process of immunity. This lesson addresses one of those cell types: the helper T cell.

Helper T Cells Defined

Immunity is defined in physiology as the body's ability to resist infection and abnormal changes due to outside factors. This includes the body's ability to protect against microbial organisms, damage within the body, and cancer development. Immunity requires the performance of several key cellular features of the body, including multiple types of leukocytes (white blood cells). One of these leukocyte types is known as the helper T cell, which plays a vital role in the process of fighting infection.


T cells, which comprise a class of white blood cells in the body, are produced in the bone marrow during a process known as hemopoiesis. During this process, immature T cells are sent to the thymus gland in order to mature. Upon maturation, these cells are known as naïve, meaning they have not been exposed to any antigens (foreign substances) within the body.

Helper T cells work in conjunction with all other white blood cells to support their functions in immunity. Certain macrophages (cells that 'eat' foreign materials) will digest bacteria and viruses that enter the body. Afterward, these cells will present pieces of these foreign invaders on the cell surface for recognition. Helper T cells, then, recognize these pieces as being foreign, and this stimulates a double-pathway of cell response.

Recognition is completed in the first step, as the helper T cell comes in contact with the macrophage and its displayed particles. The second step is verification, where the T cell determines if the particles being presented are, indeed, foreign. If both of these steps are completed, helper T cells will begin to function.

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