Activation and Function of T Helper Cells (TH)

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The page below is a sample from the LabCE course An Update on Basic Concepts of Immunity. Access the complete course and earn ASCLS P.A.C.E.-approved continuing education credits by subscribing online.

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Activation and Function of T Helper Cells (TH)

As mentioned previously, CD 4 is a marker for TH cells. CD 4 recognizes MHC II molecules that are presenting antigen, usually by professional antigen-presenting cells. A complex set of interactions determines how the TH cell will respond once it recognizes its antigen. This often depends on cytokine release by macrophages or other cells during the innate response; different pathogens will elicit different cytokine responses. There are scores of different cytokines which can also act in concert with each other. Examples of cytokines are: IL-1, IL-2, IL-6, TNF-α, IFN ϒ, etc. etc. Table 8 summarizes some of the cytokines, what type of T Helper cell evolves, and how that particular T Helper cell will function.
Table 8. Activation and Function of T Helper Cells.
TH 1 CellsTH 2 CellsTH 17 CellsT FH Cells*T reg Cells**
Cytokines that induce differentiationIL-2
IFN-
IL-4IL-6
IL-21
IL-16
TGF-
IL-23
TGF-B
Characteristic cytokines that the TH Cell secretesIL-2
IFN-
IL-4
IL-5
IL-17
IL-6
IL-21TGF-B
IL-10
FunctionActivates macrophagesActivates cellular and antibody response to parasitesEnhances neutrophil responseActivates B Cells; maturation of antibody responseSuppresses other effector cells
* FH = follicular helper
**T reg = T regulatory
As you can see, there is a great deal of interdependence between the innate and adaptive immune responses. In addition, the type of TH response will often determine the course of the host's disease. The classic example is that of Mycobacterium leprosae infection. If the T Cells respond as TH-1 cells, a form of leprosy will develop which is known as "tuberculoid" in which the infection is contained and does not spread or do tissue damage. If, however, a TH-2 response occurs, "lepromatous" leprosy develops, which is invasive and damaging to the tissues. This is an over-simplification, but gives an idea of how important the cytokine and TH responses can be.
To summarize T Helper Cell activation and function, the following occurs:
1. In the lymph node, an MHC II molecule on an antigen-presenting cell presents antigen to a TH cell.
2. The TCR on the TH cell recognizes and attaches to antigen, and the CD 4 co-receptor recognizes the MHC II molecule.
3. Other co-receptors are also engaged (the entire process is beyond the scope of this course).
4. A signal is sent to the nucleus to begin replicating its DNA and the cell rapidly divides into many daughter cells (a process also known as "cloning").
5. The TH cells also have cytokine receptors on their membrane, and will respond accordingly to form the TH effector cells, as indicated in the chart above.
6. In the process of forming daughter cells (clones), some become memory cells. The memory cells will not act as effector cells, but will remain for a long period of time, and will respond quickly upon secondary infection.