Immune System's Been in the News a Lot Lately

By Dr. Paul Donohue | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 15, 1996 | Go to article overview

Immune System's Been in the News a Lot Lately


Dr. Paul Donohue, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Dear Dr. Donohue: Many illnesses today have to do with immune system deficiency, an attack by the body on itself. Just how does it happen, and why so much on it lately (if your column is any measure)?

The great immune system interest today reflects heightened research flowing from studies into the AIDS epidemic, the mother of all immune system illnesses.

Certainly, wide vistas open up when you delve into the complexities of the body's immunity network. White blood cells form essential links in the immune system. One type, the granulocyte, exists exclusively to gobble up germs as they become so identified. Granulocytes are the familiar stuff of pus accumulations visible at infection sites. Lymphocytes are another vital link of the immune system. One, the B lymphocyte, makes antibodies that coat germs, setting them up for easier identification for granulocyte ingestion. Another white cell, the T-lymphocyte, coordinates that system, and as fate would have it, the vital "T-cells" just happen to be the selective targets of HIV, the virus of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The virus could not have chosen a more telling target. Without T-lymphocyte direction, the immune system loses any semblance of order and target selection. That accounts for many rare infections associated with full-blown AIDS. The immune system, even without AIDS, has its problems, sometimes marking normal tissue as alien and launching assaults against it. Many ailments might be examples of such misguided immune attacks. Dear Dr. Donohue: I have a cyst on my thyroid gland. Would it affect the nervous system? I have had it checked with tests. …

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