Monday, November 19, 2007

Antibodies

I find it amazing that we have an immune system that produces around 10 billion different antibodies, each capable of neutralizing a specific nasty (antigen) like the measles virus or that neurotoxin tetanaspasmin which causes Tetanus. These antibodies are produced by a particular lymphocyte (white blood cell) called an activated B cell or plasma cell. Any antigen that gets into our blood or lymph fluids is combated by a B cell produced army. If we have never encountered a particular antigen, like this years flu, before naїve B cells proliferate to form a new battalion of soldiers. Most of the soldiers are immediately activated as plasma cells which shoot a very unique antibody capable of neutralizing the invader. When they have won the battle the plasma cells are discharged and quickly die off. The top brass with a memory of the enemy can persist for a very long time (up to a whole lifetime) and will quickly recognize and neutralize the enemy if we ever encounter it again. Each of us has an ever vigilant constantly patrolling army of naїve and battle seasoned memory B cells.

If after the battle is won those discharged plasma cells don't bugger off and die you have some form of myeloma. Lets hope it is a benign manifestation of no significance (like MGUS). If you have a bunch of confused disorientated and delusional top brass (like the Bush administration) they may be activating plasma cells without an enemy. The plasma cells keep fighting, shooting blanks (antibodies specific to an invader that doesn't exist). Things can get really out of control. The army can get so bloated and out of control that they start crowding out everything else in the environment (the bone marrow), send erroneous signals to the rest of immune system and plug up other systems (like the kidneys) with useless antibodies.

In my case one of the things my intoxicated laughing plasma cells are doing is signally the rest of my immunity system to shut down. "Don't bother waking up, sleep in, everything is taken care of." All my useful fighters (immunoglobulins) are slowly being lulled into submission. Here is a graph of my immunoglobulin expression since this out of control army was found back at the end of 2005. There are now about 10 times fewer immunoglobulins than there should be. That is a good incentive to be neurotic about what I expose my self to.

1 comment:

Barb said...

OMG! I love that you have this chart. The whole thing can be expressed in chart form...how satisfying. Hand this man some Purell!!!