Humoral and Cell-Mediated Immune Responses

The immune system distinguishes two groups of foreign substances. One group consists of antigens that are freely circulating in the body. These include molecules, viruses, and foreign cells. A second group consists of self cells that display aberrant MHC proteins. Aberrant MHC proteins can originate from antigens that have been engulfed and broken down (exogenous antigens) or from virus‐infected and tumor cells that are actively synthesizing foreign proteins (endogenous antigens). Depending on the kind of foreign invasion, two different immune responses occur:
  • The humoral response (or antibody‐mediated response) involves B cells that recognize antigens or pathogens that are circulating in the lymph or blood (“humor” is a medieval term for body fluid). The response follows this chain of events:
  1. Antigens bind to B cells.
  2. Interleukins or helper T cells costimulate B cells. In most cases, both an antigen and a costimulator are required to activate a B cell and initiate B cell proliferation.
  3. B cells proliferate and produce plasma cells. The plasma cells bear antibodies with the identical antigen specificity as the antigen receptors of the activated B cells. The antibodies are released and circulate through the body, binding to antigens.
  4. B cells produce memory cells. Memory cells provide future immunity.
  • The cell‐mediated response involves mostly T cells and responds to any cell that displays aberrant MHC markers, including cells invaded by pathogens, tumor cells, or transplanted cells. The following chain of events describes this immune response:
  1. Self cells or APCs displaying foreign antigens bind to T cells.
  2. Interleukins (secreted by APCs or helper T cells) costimulate activation of T cells.
  3. If MHC‐I and endogenous antigens are displayed on the plasma membrane, T cells proliferate, producing cytotoxic T cells. Cytotoxic T cells destroy cells displaying the antigens.
  4. If MHC‐II and exogenous antigens are displayed on the plasma membrane, T cells proliferate, producing helper T cells. Helper T cells release interleukins (and other cytokines), which stimulate B cells to produce antibodies that bind to the antigens and stimulate nonspecific agents (NK and macrophages) to destroy the antigens.