Helper T cells | Immune system physiology

Helper T cells:

Are a type of T cell that play an important role in the immune system, particularly in the adaptive immune system. They help the activity of other immune cells by releasing T cell cytokines. These cells help suppress or regulate immune responses. They are essential in B cell antibody class switching, in the activation and growth of cytotoxic T cells, and in maximizing bactericidal activity of phagocytes such as macrophages.

Mature Th cells express the surface protein CD4 and are referred to as CD4+ T cells. Such CD4+ T cells are generally treated as having a pre-defined role as helper T cells within the immune system. For example, when an antigen-presenting cell expresses an antigen on MHC class II, a CD4+ cell will aid those cells through a combination of cell to cell interactions (e.g. CD40 (protein) and CD40L) and through cytokines.

CD154, also called CD40 ligand or CD40L, is a cell surface protein that mediates T cell helper function in a contact-dependent process and is a member of the TNF superfamily of molecules. It binds to CD40 on antigen-presenting cells (APC), which leads to many effects depending on the target cell type. CD154 acts as a costimulatory molecule and is particularly important on a subset of T cells called T follicular helper cells (TFH cells). On TFH cells, CD154 promotes B cell maturation and function by engaging CD40 on the B cell surface and therefore facilitating cell-cell communication. A defect in this gene results in an inability to undergo immunoglobulin class switching and is associated with hyper IgM syndrome. Absence of CD154 also stops the formation of germinal centers and therefore prohibiting antibody affinity maturation, an important process in the adaptive immune system.

The importance of helper T cells can be seen from HIV, a virus that primarily infects CD4+ T cells. In the advanced stages of HIV infection, loss of functional CD4+ T cells leads to the symptomatic stage of infection known as the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). When the HIV virus is detected early in blood or other bodily fluids, continuous therapy can delay the time at which this fall happens. Therapy can also better manage the course of AIDS if and when it occurs. There are other rare disorders such as lymphocytopenia which result in the absence or dysfunction of CD4+ T cells. These disorders produce similar symptoms, many of which are fatal.

 

Resources
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Introduction to helper T cells and their role in activating B cells. Created by Sal Khan.

Watch the next lesson: https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/nclex-rn/rn-immune-system/rn-the-immune-system/v/cytotoxic-t-cells?utm_source=YT&utm_medium=Desc&utm_campaign=Nclex-rn

Missed the previous lesson? https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/nclex-rn/rn-immune-system/rn-the-immune-system/v/professional-antigen-presenting-cells-apc-and-mhc-ii-complexes?utm_source=YT&utm_medium=Desc&utm_campaign=Nclex-rn

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