The immune system is a protection mechanism inside your body designed to defend you against millions of bacteria, microbes, viruses, toxins and parasites that would love to invade your body.
When something dies, its immune system (along with everything else) shuts down. In a matter of hours the body is invaded by all sorts of bacteria, microbes, parasites and, once you die it only takes a few weeks for these organisms to completely dismantle your body and carry it away, until all that's left is a skeleton. Obviously your immune system is doing something amazing to keep all of that dismantling from happening when you are alive.
When a mosquito bites you, you get a red, itchy bump. That too is a visible sign of your immune system at work.
Allergies are really just the immune system overreacting to certain stimuli that other people don't react to at all. Some people have diabetes, which is caused by the immune system inappropriately attacking cells in the pancreas and destroying them. Some people have rheumatoid arthritis, which is caused by the immune system acting inappropriately in the joints, or Grave's disease which is the immune system mistankenly attacking thyroid. In many different diseases, the cause is actually an immune system error!
Bacteria and Viruses
Your body is a multi-cellular organism made up of perhaps 100 trillion cells. The cells in your body are fairly complicated machines. Each one has a nucleus, energy production equipment, etc. Bacteria are single-celled organisms that are much simpler. For example, they have no nucleus. They are perhaps 1/100th the size of a human cell and might measure 1 micrometer long. Bateria are completely independent organisms able to eat and reproduce - they are sort of like fish swimming in the ocean of your body.
Under the right conditions bacteria reproduce very quickly: One bacteria divides into two separate bacteria perhaps once every 20 or 30 minutes. At that rate, one bacteria can become millions in just a few hours.
A virus is a different breed altogether. A virus is not really alive. A virus particle is nothing but a fragment of DNA in a protective coat. The virus comes in contact with a cell, attaches itself to the cell wall and injects its DNA (and perhaps a few enzymes) into the cell. The DNA uses the machinery inside the living cell to reproduce new virus particles. Eventually the hijacked cell dies and bursts, freeing the new virus particles; or the viral particles may bud off of the cell so it remains alive. In either case, the cell is a factory for the virus.
Components of The Immune System
The most obvious part of the immune system is what you can see. For example, skin is an important part of the immune system. It acts as a primary boundary between germs and your body
The major components of the immune system are:
- Lymph system
- Bone marrow
- White blood cells (described in detail in part II)
- Complement system
Antibodies (also referred to as immunoglobulins and gammaglobulins) are produced by white blood cells. They are Y-shaped proteins that each respond to a specific antigen (bacteria, virus or toxin). Each antibody has a special section (at the tips of the two branches of the Y) that is sensitive to a specific antigen and binds to it in some way.
When an antibody binds to a toxin it is called an antitoxin (if the toxin comes from some form of venom, it is called an antivenin). The binding generally disables the chemical action of the toxin. When an antibody binds to the outer coat of a virus particle or the cell wall of a bacterium it can stop their movement through cell walls. Or a large number of antibodies can bind to an invader and signal to the complement system that the invader needs to be removed.
Antibodies come in five classes:
- Immunoglobulin A (IgA)
- Immunoglobulin D (IgD)
- Immunoglobulin E (IgE)
- Immunoglobulin G (IgG)
- Immunoglobulin M (IgM)
Interferon interferes with viruses (hence the name) and is produced by most cells in the body. Interferons, like antibodies and complements, are proteins, and their job is to let cells signal to one another. When a cell detects interferon from other cells, it produces proteins that help prevent viral replication in the cell.
Go to Immunity-II
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