Mailbox: T cells, B cells, on the sea shore...

What are these cells and why are they important?
16 March 2021


T helper cell


Time for our mailbox - and this week we’ve had this poetic question from listener Zo ‘B cells, T cells, she sells, sea shells - please explain what these cells do, are they equally important?" 

Chris - Thank you Zo, well, obviously this is a question that's very pertinent at the moment, we're hearing a lot about the immune system, because of headlines around coronavirus. To put it simply, these are both types of white blood cell that are important components of your immune system. B cells make antibodies, or are involved in the production of antibodies, which are sticky molecules that go around in the bloodstream and can mop up things that shouldn't be there. And they take a while to make once you've seen a threat for the first time, and they can protect you should you re-encounter that threat into the future. T cells are a different kind of white blood cell, and they are actually in a number of categories. One are called helper cells, and they actually help to boost the response of other parts of the immune system. There are also a very important class of T cells called cytotoxic T cells, and they're programmed to go and inspect all the cells in the body as they drift around in the bloodstream, and find out what those cells are doing, and if there's signs that they are harbouring a virus or producing viruses, they can nuke the cells and destroy them. So together, these things are your adaptive immune system: B cells make antibodies, which can defend you against encountering a threat again in the future; and T-cells can help the immune system to do what it does, and also get rid of cells that are harbouring viruses right now.




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