Cell-mediated immunity

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Cell-mediated immunity is an immune response that does not involve antibodies, but rather involves the activation of phagocytes, antigen-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocytes, and the release of various cytokines in response to an antigen. Historically, the immune system was separated into two branches: humoral immunity, for which the protective function of immunization could be found in the humor (cell-free bodily fluid or serum) and cellular immunity, for which the protective function of immunization was associated with cells. CD4 cells or helper T cells provide protection against different pathogens. Cytotoxic T cells cause death by apoptosis without using cytokines, therefore in cell-mediated immunity cytokines are not always present.

The innate immune system and the adaptive immune system each comprise both humoral and cell-mediated components.

Cellular immunity protects the body by:

  1. activating antigen-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocytes that are able to induce apoptosis in body cells displaying epitopes of foreign antigen on their surface, such as virus-infected cells, cells with intracellular bacteria, and cancer cells displaying tumor antigens;
  2. activating macrophages and natural killer cells, enabling them to destroy pathogens; and
  3. stimulating cells to secrete a variety of cytokines that influence the function of other cells involved in adaptive immune responses and innate immune responses.

Cell-mediated immunity is directed primarily at microbes that survive in phagocytes and microbes that infect non-phagocytic cells. It is most effective in removing virus-infected cells, but also participates in defending against fungi, protozoans, cancers, and intracellular bacteria. It also plays a major role in transplant rejection.