Science Questions

What role do the appendix and tonsils play?

Sun, 9th Nov 2008

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Jeremiah asked:

What role do the appendix and tonsils play? They are presumably immune organs arenít they?


We put this to Professor Adrian Newland:

Adrian - The gut has lots of areas of immune system throughout it to try and deal with any infections that come in through the mouth and go down into the gut. The tonsils themselves are particularly important early on in life. That is one of the reason kids and teenagers have such problems with their tonsils. They get exposed to airborne bugs. They stimulate the tonsils to develop immunities to those bugs and the tonsils get bigger and cause bouts of tonsillitis.

Helen - I had my tonsils out when I was little and it wasnít very nice at all. Since then Iíve been absolutely fine.


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jeremiah asked the Naked Scientists: Is appendix and tonsil a vestigial organ? Someone told me that it plays a role in the immune system. How true is this? What do you think? Jerryade, Sat, 21st Jun 2008

Hi Jeremiah

They are both secondary lymphoid organs where immune cells (lymphocytes) are introduced to antigens (chemical markers) from pathogens (mainly bacteria and viruses) that they need to learn to recognise. Neither are essential for good health because there are just a small part of the body's defence system and there are other tissues that can take on this role if the appendix and tonsils are absent. Without them, however, there may be a small risk of increased susceptibility to certain infections - particularly in the case of the tonsil, which helps to defend against upper respiratory infections.

Chris chris, Sun, 22nd Jun 2008

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