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The Lymphatic System

Its not the most commonly referred to system in the body, but without
the lymphatic system our cardiovascular system would stop working, and
our immune system would be hopelessly impaired. The lymphatic system
is made up of two semi-independent parts:
A network of lymphatic vessels
Various lymphoid tissues and organs scattered throughout the body
The lymphatic vessels carry fluids that have escaped the blood vascular
system back to the blood. The lymphoid organs house phagocytic cells and
lymphocytes, which play key roles in body defense and resistance to
disease.

Lymph Nodes
The lymph nodes help protect the body by removing foreign material such
as bacteria and tumor cells from the lymphatic stream and by producing
lymphocytes that function in the immune response. As lymph is sent
toward the heart, it is filtered through the thousands of lymph nodes that
are gathered along the lymphatic vessels. Large clusters are found in the
inguinal, axillary, and cervical regions of the body.
Within the lymph nodes are macrophages which destroy bacteria, viruses,
and other foreign substances in the lymph before returning it to the blood.
Collections of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) are also located in
the lymph nodes.

Lymph Node Structure


The outer part of the node, its cort ex, contains collections of lymphocytes called follicles. Many of the follicles have dark-staining centers called germinal centers. These centers enlarge when specific lymphocytes are generating daughter cells called plasma cells, which releas e antibodies.

The outer part of the node, its cortex, contains collections of lymphocytes
called follicles. Many of the follicles have dark-staining centers called
germinal centers. These centers enlarge when specific lymphocytes are
generating daughter cells called plasma cells, which release antibodies.

Lymph Node Process


The flow of lymph through the node is very slow. This allows time for the
lymphocytes and macrophages to perform their protective functions.
Lymph generally passes through several nodes before its cleaning process
is finished.

Sometimes lymph nodes get overwhelmed by the very agents they are
trying to destroy. They can become swollen, and can also become
secondary cancer sites. The fact that cancer-infiltrated lymph nodes are

swollen but not painful helps to distinguish cancerous lymph nodes from
those infected by microorganisms.

Spleen
The spleen is a blood-rich organ that filters blood. It is located on the left
side of the abdominal cavity and curls around the anterior aspect of the
stomach. The spleen filters and cleans the blood of bacteria, viruses, and
other debris. Its most important job is to destroy worn-out red blood cells
and return some of their breakdown products to the liver.

Thymus Gland
The thymus gland, which functions at peak levels only during youth, is a
lymphatic mass found low in the throat overlying the heart. The thymus
produces hormones that help in the programming of certain lymphocytes
so they can carry out their protective roles in the body.

Tonsils
The tonsils are small masses of lymphatic tissue that ring the throat
where they are found in the mucosa. Their job is to trap and remove any
bacteria or other foreign pathogens entering the throat. Sometimes they
do their job so well, they become congested with bacteria resulting in
tonsillitis.

Peyers Patch
Peyers patches, which resemble tonsils, are found in the wall of the small
intestine. The macrophages are in an ideal position to catch and destroy
bacteria, stopping it from entering the intestinal wall. Peyers patches and
the tonsils are part of the collection of small lymphoid tissues referred to
as mucosa-associated lymphatic tissue (MALT).

Nonspecific Defenses
The bodys defenders are two systems, simply called the nonspecific and
specific defense systems. The nonspecific defense system responds
immediately to protect the body from all foreign substances, whatever
they are. The nonspecific defenses are provided by intact skin and mucous
membranes, the inflammatory response, and a number of proteins
produced by the body cells. This system reduces the workload of the
second system, the specific defense system.

Phagocytes and Natural Killer Cells


Pathogens that make it through the mechanical barriers are confronted by
phagocytes in nearly every body organ. A phagocyte, such as a
macrophage or neutrophil, technically eats the foreign particle.
Natural killer (NK) cells police the body in blood and lymph. They are a
unique group that can kill cancer cells and virus-infected body cells well
before the immune system is enlisted in the fight. NK cells are NOT
phagocytic. They attack the target cells membrane and release a
chemical called perforins, which causes the target cells membrane and
nucleus to disintegrate.

Inflammatory Response
The inflammatory response is a nonspecific response triggered whenever
body tissues are injured. There are four cardinal signs and major
symptoms of an acute inflammation:
Redness Heat SwellingPain
The inflammatory process begins with a chemical alarm. When cells are
injured, they release inflammatory chemicals, including histamine and
kinins that cause blood vessels to dilate, activate pain receptors, and
attract phagocytes and white blood cells to the area.
The inflammatory response prevents the spread of damaging agents to
nearby tissues, disposes of cell debris and pathogens, and sets the stage
for repair. Within an hour after the inflammatory process has started,
serious healing is underway.

The term complement refers to a group of at least 20 plasma proteins


that circulate in the blood in an inactive state. However, when a
complement becomes fixed to foreign cells, it is activated and becomes a
major factor in the fight against the foreign cells.
Viruses do their dirty work by entering tissue cells and taking over the
cellular machinery needed to reproduce themselves. Although the virusinfected cells can do little to defend themselves, they can secrete small
proteins called interferons. The interferon molecules diffuse to nearby
cells and bind to their membrane receptors. Somehow this binding hinders
the ability of the viruses to multiply within these cells.
Fever, or abnormally high body temperature, is a systematic response to
invading microorganisms. Although high fevers are dangerous, mild or
moderate fever seems to benefit the body by increasing the metabolic
rate of tissue cells in general, speeding up the repair process.

Specific Defenses
Nonspecific defenses are always ready to protect the body. The immune
system, however, must first meet or be primed by an initial exposure
before it can protect the body against it.

The specific defense system, more commonly called the immune system,
mounts the attack against particular foreign substances. The immune
system is a functional system rather than an organ system in an
anatomical sense. It is made up of millions of cells that inhabit tissues and
circulate in body fluids.
The most important of the immune cells are lymphocytes and
macrophages. When our immune system is working properly, it protects us
from most viruses, bacteria, transplanted organs or grafts, and even our
own cells that may have turned against us. This resulting highly specific
resistance to disease is called immunity (immun = free).
An antigen (Ag) is any substance capable of exciting our immune systems
and provoking an immune response. Pollen grains and microorganisms
such as bacteria, fungi, and virus particles are antigenic because their
surfaces bear such foreign molecules.

Allergies
Allergies or hypersensitivities are abnormally vigorous immune responses
in which the immune system causes tissue damage as it fights off a
perceived threat that would otherwise be harmless to the body. These are
triggered by the release of histamine, which causes small blood vessels to
become dilated and leaky, which explains the runny nose and watery eyes.
Over-the-counter anti-allergy drugs contain antihistamines that
counteract these effects.

AIDS
The most important and devastating of the acquired immunedeficiencies is
acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS cripples the immune
system by interfering with the activity of helper T cells.

Cancer
Cancer is a group of many related diseases that describe when cells do not
act as they should within the body. They grow and spread rapidly to other
places, destroying tissues and using up body resources. Cancer cells can
clump together to form tumors and can break away from the original site
and cause cancer in other parts of the body. This is called metastasis. The
signs, symptoms, and treatment depend upon the type of cancer and
location in the body.
Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs in an attempt to slow or halt
the cancerous growth of cells. It may be in a pill form or given
intravenously over several weeks.
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy waves, such as x-rays. The
goal is to damage or destroy cancer cells completely

Chronic fatigue syndrome


Chronic fatigue syndrome is thought to be shared by several different
underlying diseases. Others think it may be a problem with the immune
system. Symptoms include depression, sleep disorders, and severe lack of
energy.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease where the
body produces antibodies that stick to the bodys own cells, causing the
body to attack itself. Those who suffer from RA have severe pain and
stiffness in the joints.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus


Systemic lupus erythematosus is where abnormal antibodies in the blood
target tissues within the body. Most lupus patients are women. Signs and
symptoms include pain and swelling in the joints, general fatigue, fever,
chills, and headache among other symptoms.