Drawings of different types of T cells and B cells

Getting into specifics

B cells and T cells give us an immunological memory

In mammals, the specific (adaptive) immune system provides long-lasting protection against specific microbes or substances. It maintains a ‘memory’ of all the previous infections it has fought.

B cells, which are made in the bone marrow, produce antibodies. These proteins attach to very specific non-self markers, or antigens, of pathogensT cells, which are made in the bone marrow but then mature in the thymus gland, express cell-surface receptors that fit the antigens on pathogens.

Cells specific to lots of different diseases patrol our bodies all the time. When they come across something that they recognise as a potential threat, they work to eliminate it. The B-cell response involving antibodies is often referred to as the humoral immune response, whereas T cells are associated with the cell-mediated immune response.

However, immune responses generally require a coordinated attack involving components of both the humoral and cell-mediated responses, and the specific and non-specific branches.

Lead image:

Clockwise from left: cytotoxic T cell, plasma B cell, B cell with antibody attached to its surface, memory B cell, helper T cell.

Bret Syfert, ‘Big Picture’ CC BY

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Immune System’ in January 2015.

Microbiology, Cell biology, Immunology
Immune System
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development