Cellular and humoral immunity

The primary role of the MHC in immunity is to alert T lymphocytes to changes in the surface integrity of other cells, so that they can be dealt with in a way that is appropriate for maintaining the integrity of the milieu intérieur. The MHC class I and class II molecules define the nature of self to the immune system. If discovered today, the MHC might be more appropriately named the 'self-surveillance complex'. Unlike the Ig molecules, which can be produced in large numbers by a single plasma cell, the T cells themselves are the effectors of cell-mediated immunity. Antibodies bind well to foreign molecules (e.g. viral coat proteins), and do not normally interact with the MHC glycoprotein-peptide complex which targets recirculating T lymphocytes. The MHC is thus the key operator in a 'law of conservation of T cell function'. The comparatively rare helper and effector T cells are focused on to the cell surface, do not recognize free virus particles, and are not blocked by the much more prolific Ig molecules.

See also: Alloantigens; Antigen-presenting cells; CD4; CD8; Cell-mediated immunity; Graft rejection; H2 class I; H2 class II; HLA class I; HLA class II; Immune response (Ir) genes; Immune surveillance; Interferon a; Interferon ß; T cell receptor, aß; Thymus; Tolerance, central; Tolerance, models; Tolerance, peripheral.

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