A Symphony of Immunity

A symphony is a harmonious musical composition considered to be a work of art that is celebrated by mankind.  If you’re familiar with a symphony you’ll know that is it played by an orchestra.  You’ll also know that an orchestra is made of different sections of instruments.  It’s a musical ensemble containing string, brass, woodwind and percussion instruments.  Some orchestras have more than 30 different instruments and often have at least 50 or even up to 100 musicians, depending on the style.

To say that the immune system is simply our body’s natural defense is a major understatement!  Like the orchestra that simultaneously brings multiple sounds into harmony, the body does the same to protect us!  Our immune system also produces amazing works, just like an orchestra does a symphony.  Both our immune system and orchestras are amazing examples of coordination of diverse parts that fit together and complement each other.

The way in which the immune system defends us truly shows an amazing form of intelligence and communication across many forms of cells, tissues and organs.  It includes parts of different body systems that are seemingly unrelated at first glance.  When you look at each part in isolation, it’s difficult to understand their relationship.  This skillful and complex nature gets very technical, but let’s see if we can keep it simple!

Instruments of the Immune System

Immune system & lymphatic system diagram
Immune system & lymphatic system diagram

The Skin

It’s literally all over the body and is the the first line of defense against invaders.  Your skin produces antimicrobial proteins and contains immune cells in different layers.  The skin is the largest part of the immune system providing a primary barrier between your body and germs.  Also called the epidermis, the skin is tough enough to keep out most pathogens (bacteria and viruses and infectious organisms that cause disease) and provides an early warning to the immune system.  It also creates antibacterial substances that keep mold or bacteria that land on your skin from building up, killing most of it quickly.

The Nose, Mouth and Eyes

These are also common entry points for germs.  Tears and mucus contain enzymes that break down bacteria and saliva is also anti-bacterial.  The nasal passage and lungs are coated with mucus and any germ not killed immediately gets trapped by mucus and then swallowed.  Mast cells are protective cells that are found near the boundary of the inner and outer parts of the body and in the nasal passages, throat, lungs and skin.

Any germs that make it into the body need to get by these defenses first.  From there the rest of the instruments go to work and serve as the second layers of defense:

Bone Marrow

The bone marrow inside your bones produces immune cells.  Immune cells are white blood cells that attack germs that make it past the 1st lines of defense.  They can adapt to specific types of germs that might be resistant to the initial attack.  They produce antibodies that either attack the pathogen or only identify it.

The Complement System

It’s a set of 30 proteins that work with antibodies in combination to destroy pathogens.  Often the antibodies cannot actually destroy a pathogen on their own.  This is the role of the complement system and hence they work together.

The Gut

The small intestine is where the largest amount of immune cells are found.  This highlights the importance of the gut in our immune defense.

The Bloodstream

The bloodstream is the portion of the Immune system where immune cells constantly circulate through the body.  High white blood cell counts in the blood indicates that a virus or infection is present and immune cells are working to kill it.

The Thymus

The thymus is a small, pyramid-shaped organ found under the breast plate, between the lungs, where the immune cells called “T” cells reach maturity.  Thymosin is the hormone produced by the thymus that stimulates the production of T cells.

The Lymphatic System

A key part of the immune system and consisting of a network of vessels and fluid called lymph.  The lymph nodes are a communication point where the immune cells converge and sample the information brought from around the body.  From here, adaptive immune cells can be activated to go where a specific threat has been identified.  The entire lymphatic system is a conduit for communication and travel between tissues and the blood stream.

The Spleen

Another important organ that helps to process information gathered from the bloodstream.  It also serves to enhance immune cells so they are prepared to respond to pathogens in the blood.

Fine Tuning

Together these instruments work can miraculously and create a thing of beauty.  However like all fine instruments, they need to be tuned and maintained to work their magic.  See to it that you keep them a priority in your life!

Sources:

http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/immunesystem/Pages/overview.aspx
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000821.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27169/
http://www.news-medical.net/news/20130917/Understanding-essential-role-of-gut-microbes-in-immune-system.aspx
http://health.howstuffworks.com/human-body/systems/immune/immune-system4.htm
http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/immunesystem/Pages/overview.aspx
http://www.mananatomy.com/body-systems

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