T Lymphocytes

B and T cells are the two main types of lymphocytes. Both these lymphoid cells are differentiated and develop in the primary lymphoid organs. The T cells for instance, develop in the thymus while the B lymphocytes differentiate in the adult bone marrow and the fetal liver.

Table of Contents

What are T-lymphocytes?

T cells Meaning

T lymphocytes (T cells, named after the thymus-dependent development) are major components of the adaptive immune system. It is directly involved in destroying infected host cells, producing cytokines, activating other immune cells and in regulating immune response.

These lymphocytes have a central role in immune response. Due to the presence of t-cell receptors on the surface of cells, they are distinguishable from other lymphocytes. Origination of these cells is in the form of precursor cells from the bone marrow further goes on to grow into different types of t cells, once they arrive at the thymus gland. Despite leaving the thymus, T cells continue to differentiate.

T Cell Production

T cells arise from heamotopoeitic stem cells synthesised in the bone marrow. Few multipotent cells turn progenitor cells leaving the bone marrow and travelling to the thymus through the blood. These cells mature in the thymus.

In the thymus, the T cells experience a type of selection phenomena which most of the developing T cells (known as thymocytes) do not successfully pass and hence succumb. However, those Thymocytes which pass, interact with the self-MHC molecules accept positive signals to survive and the Thymocytes possessing receptors obtain negative signals (those having self-antigenic properties) are eliminated from the repertoire.

T cells then develop their own T cell receptor (TCR) and are antigen-specific. Those T cells surviving thymic selection mature and exit the thymus. They then pass through the peripheral lymphoid structures to take on a particular antigen and get stimulated. Upon activation, T cells grow and differentiate into an effector T cell.

With ageing, the thymus involutes consequently we generate few naive T cells. This corresponds to saying that older bodies produce reduced T cell diversity contributing to the increased susceptibility to infections with ageing.

Activation and Mechanism of T cell

Although T cells take origin in the bone marrow, it matures in the thymus. They get activated only when a particular antigen is found, to which it binds on to the surface of antigen-presenting cells (APCs). In this process, different types of T cells are involved such as CD8 cytotoxic T cells and CD4 helper T cells. This forms the MHC Complex.

Not always is the binding of the MHC associated with the activation of T cells. Both the cytotoxic T cells and helper T cells require secondary signals to get completely activated and effective to the target which are rendered by different molecules.

Once activation occurs, communication takes in the form of cytokines which judges what form of responder the cell transforms into. Each of these types have their own function in the continued development of further immune responses.

T cell activation – Steps

T lymphocytes do not interact with free antigens in the surfaces of foreign microbes. They only respond to cells having both a self MHC antigen and an antigenic determinant from a different source. Consequently, two stimuli are required to trigger the terminal differentiation and proliferation of the T-cell clones that are required.

Cytotoxic T cells respond to the combination of class I MHC antigens and foreign antigen while the helper T cells respond to class II MHC antigens and foreign antigen. As a result, the activities of such cells are directed towards the cells and not free pathogens of the body.

Helper T cells

CD4+ cell, helper T cells or helper T lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell serving as a key mediator of immune function. These cells are B cells, cytotoxic T cells, macrophages and other effector cells.

These helper T cells express a protein referred to as CD4 on its surface which is vital in helper T cell activation by associating class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. They specialize in aiding the immune system to identify foreign particles.

T Cells – Types

T cells that have not interacted with specific antigens are naive T cells. These cells can interact with ACPs (antigen presenting cells) in the peripheral lymphoid organs. These ACPs make use of an MHC molecule to present the antigen. Upon specific-antigen recognition, T cells grow and differentiate into effector T cells of a specific category. Such cells interact with host cells to perform their roles.

There exist proteins to differentiate main groups of effector T cells – CD4 or CD8 cells, which are used either to bind or as co-receptors. When naive T cells interact with CD4 cells they turn T helper cells, and with CD8 cells, they turn cytotoxic T cells, performing their own activities.

CD4 cells

T helper cells or Th have a broad range of functionality compared to CD8 cells. Consequently they can differentiate into several subclasses such as Th1, Th2, Th17 and regulatory T cells. Presence of peptide antigens by MHC Class II molecules activates these cells. Expression of these cells is on the surface of APCs. Such molecules act with protein known as CD4 on the T helper cells assisting this type of cell.

Primarily, CD4 cells include activation of other immune cells which release cytokines and help B cells to produce antibodies. It is involved in shaping, activating and regulating the adaptive immune responses.

CD8 cells

Target cells are killed by the cytotoxic T cells. It basically does so by liberating cytotoxic granules to be killed into the cell. These cells detect their specific antigen when offered by the MHC Class I molecules found on the surface of all nucleated cells. These molecules interact with a protein known as CD8 cells helping identification of cell type. These cells need to be signalled from other cells for their activation. Cells from whom signalling is expected are CD4 cells or dendritic cells. Primarily, they are involved in killing infected cells, tumorous cells and cells with intracellular bacteria.

Memory T cells

The main role of these cells is rendering memory to the immune system against antigens that are encountered before. These cells can be CD8+ or CD4+ cells. Whenever there is an infection, memory T cells are formed. These cells are long-lived and specific to antigens. These cells are important as they can immediately expand to significant numbers of effector T cells on exposure in future to the antigen. They have a low threshold for activation.

Function of T cells in Immune system

Role of T cells

T cells forms the main elements of the adaptive immune system. It is involved in killing the infected host cells directly, production of cytokines, activation of immune cells and regulation of immune responses. The maintenance and setting up of immune responses, memory and homeostasis is based on T cells. They express receptors to identify different antigens from a pathogen and ambience and to sustain self tolerance and have an immunological memory.

This was a brief on T lymphocytes. Explore other important topics on NEET, at BYJU’S.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are T cells?

There are two main types of lymphocytes – T cells and B cells. T cells are a type of white blood cells which are a vital part of the immune system. They focus on particular foreign substances.

What is the main function of the T lymphocytes?

The primary function of T-lymphocytes is to protect the body from infections and also helps in fighting cancer.

Where are T lymphocytes found?

T-lymphocytes are mainly found in lymphoid organs such as tonsils, bone marrow and spleen, but they are also found in small quantities in lungs, intestines and skin.

What are the varieties of T cells and what are their functions?

The two types of T cells are helper T cells and cytotoxic T cells. They function to identify the antigen and fight against them.

What is the function of helper T cells?

Helper T cells are functional in almost all the adaptive immune responses. They activate B cells to secrete antibodies and macrophages to destruct ingested microbes. Furthermore, they aid in activating cytotoxic T cells in killing target cells that are infected.

What are killer T cells?

Killer T cells are a type of immune cells which can destroy some cells such as cancer cells, foreign cells etc. These killer T cells can be separated from other blood cells which grow in labs and then are administered to a patient to destroy cancer cells. These are a type of white blood cells and also referred to as cytotoxic T cells.

What is the function of killer T cells?

Killer t cells release cytotoxins to kill infected cells. These immune cells destruct foreign cells, cancer cells etc.

T cells are produced in?

T cells take origin in the bone marrow, they mature in the thymus.

How do T cells recognize antigens?

Every T cell carries a T cell receptor or TCR which is unique to it. TCR identifies a particular antigen when it binds with the MHC (Major histocompatibility complex) molecules on the surface of other cells.

What are the antigens recognized by T cells?

T cells are said to have dual specificity. They identify peptide antigens seen on MHC molecules as well as self-major histocompatibility complex molecules (MHC I or II).
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