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11.63: B and T Cell Response

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What happens when your body recognizes an invader?

When your immune system detects an invading pathogen, it goes on the attack! Notice how this T-cell is setting out to destroy a cancer cell.

B and T Cell Response

Some defenses, like your skin and mucous membranes, are not designed to ward off a specific pathogen. They are just general defenders against disease. Your body also has defenses that are more specialized. Through the help of your immune system, your body can generate an army of cells to kill that one specific pathogen.

There are two different types of specific immune responses. One type involves B cells. The other type involves T cells. Recall that B cells and T cells are types of white blood cells that are key in the immune response.

B Cell Response

B cells respond to pathogens and other cells from outside the body in the blood and lymph.

Most B cells fight infections by making antibodies. An antibody is a large, Y-shaped protein that binds to an antigen , a protein that is recognized as foreign. Each antibody can bind with just one specific type of antigen ( Figure below ). They fit together like a lock and key. Once an antigen and antibody bind together, they signal for a phagocyte to destroy them.

This diagram shows how an antibody binds with an antigen. The antibody was produced by a B cell. It binds with just one type of antigen. Antibodies produced by different B cells bind with other types of antigens.

T Cell Response

There are different types of T cells, including killer T cells and helper T cells. Killer T cells destroy infected, damaged, or cancerous body cells ( Figure below ). When the killer T cell comes into contact with the infected cell, it releases poisons. The poisons make tiny holes in the cell membrane of the infected cell. This causes the cell to burst open. Both the infected cell and the viruses inside it are destroyed.

In this diagram, a killer T cell recognizes a body cell infected with a virus. After the killer T cell makes contact with the infected cell, it releases poisons that cause the infected cell to burst. This kills both the infected cell and the viruses inside it.

Helper T cells do not destroy infected or damaged body cells. But they are still necessary for an immune response. They help by releasing chemicals that control other lymphocytes. The chemicals released by helper T cells “switch on” both B cells and killer T cells so they can recognize and fight specific pathogens.


  • antibody : Large, Y-shaped protein produced by B cells that recognizes and binds to a specific antigen.
  • antigen : Protein that is recognized as foreign and causes an immune response.
  • B cell : Type of white blood cell that fights infections by forming antibodies.
  • helper T cell : Cell that releases chemicals that control the immune response.
  • killer T cell : Cell that destroys infected, damaged, or cancerous body cells.
  • phagocyte : Cells that engulf and break down pathogens.
  • T cell : Cells involved in the immune response in which cells infected with pathogens are destroyed.


  • B cells produce antibodies against pathogens in the blood and lymph.
  • Killer T cells destroy body cells infected with pathogens.


Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What does specific immunity mean? How is it different from general immunity? How are both types useful to the body?
  2. What cells are involved in the body's humoral immune response?
  3. How do macrophages educate T-cells? How do they accomplish this communication?
  4. What do killer T-cells differentiate into? How does this help the body long term?
  5. What do B-cells differentiate into? What is the function of these differentiated cells?


  1. Explain how B cells help fight infections.
  2. How do killer T cells fight pathogens?

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Difficulty Level:

At Grade


7 , 8

Date Created:

Nov 29, 2012

Last Modified:

Nov 04, 2014
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