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The Humoral Immune Response: Definition and Features

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  • 0:32 Humoral Immunity
  • 1:36 Antigen Presenting Cells
  • 2:56 B-Cells and Plasma Cells
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson will describe what humoral immunity is, how it is activated, what is produced, and why. Find out as we explore antigen presenting cells, MHC, T cells, B cells, plasma cells, and antibodies.

An Educational Cruise

I think that as we learn about the basics of the immune system, we're inevitably going to get a bit tired. So I suggest a nice cruise. The catch is that this cruise isn't going to be to the Bahamas or Alaska. This cruise will be aboard a ship in your bodily fluids. Consider it an educational cruise, where we'll learn about the fundamental concepts of an important part of the immune system.

Humoral Immunity

Our cruise ship, like most cruise ships, is white in color. That's because it's a ship that carries white blood cells. These are types of cells involved in protecting our body from foreign invaders, called pathogens. Not surprisingly, this white ship carries a lot of different white blood cells involved in things such as cell-mediated and humoral immunity.

In simple terms, cell-mediated immunity involves certain types of white blood cells, such as macrophages and T cells, that go out and kill the pathogens in our body. This is in slight contrast to humoral immunity, which is a system in which macromolecules, such as complements and antibodies, circulate in extracellular fluid in order to protect our body. While the macromolecules aren't cells, they still serve the same function as the cells in cell-mediated immunity: to protect our body against pathogens.

Antigen Presenting Cells

The reason we're focusing in on the antibodies in this lesson is because they are the major part of the humoral immune system. When a pathogen or part of a pathogen enters your body, it is quickly taken up by white blood cells. Some of the critical cells that do this are called antigen-presenting cells, and are cells, such as macrophages and dendritic cells, that present antigens to T cells. What that mouthful means is that a white blood cell, called an antigen-presenting cell, catches a dangerous shark, the pathogen, slices and dices it up, and then presents a recognizable piece of this shark, the antigen, to another white blood cell, called a T cell.

The antigen is presented on a sort of silver platter. This silver platter is called MHC and is more formally called the major histocompatibility complex. This is basically a molecule on the surface of the antigen-presenting cell that, like a platter, holds the antigen up to a specific type of T cell called the helper T cell.

B Cells and Plasma Cells

This helper T cell is like the busboy on the cruise line. He takes a look at the piece of shark, takes a little nibble, realizes it's a shark for sure, and runs off to tell a cook about what he found! The cook, a white blood cell called a B cell, listens to the little helper T cell, realizes that it is indeed a unique shark, and turns into another white blood cell called a plasma cell that is like the head chef on the ship. Basically, the cook got promoted to head chef because he realized there's a unique species of shark in the water that can be caught and used for dinner.

The new head chef, our plasma cell, then goes to the side of the ship and dumps out a bunch of little crabs, our antibodies, that are specific to the shark that was initially caught. These little crabs then dissolve into the surrounding sea, our bodily fluids, and begin hunting down this unique shark. Once they find this specific shark, they swarm around it and attach to the shark with their powerful pincers. Once these antibodies attach, they serve as a powerful and enticing signal for other white blood cells to swarm into the area and kill the pathogen.

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