Innate vs Adaptive Immunity

Your body’s immune system is very complex in how it works on a day to day basis. Immunity protects you from diseases and is affected by many different things both outside of your body and inside your body. The immune system has to learn what to protect you from includingparasites, viral infections, and bacteria that come in from the outside. It also has to learn not to attack your own organs and tissue and understand that they are supposed to be there. There are actually two different types of immunity innate vs. adaptive immunity. One you are born with and the other you acquire from your external surroundings. This article will explain these two types in detail.

Innate vs. Adaptive Immunity: Definition

Your immune system is divided into two different types:Innate and adaptive immunity. Each type has its own definition based on how it develops in the body. These definitions are:

Innate Immunity

Innate immunity is something already present in the body. As soon as something enters the skin, blood, or tissues, the immune system immediately goes into attack mode. It does this by identifying certain chemicals in the substance that tells the innate response it shouldn’t be there. One example would be white blood cells fighting bacteria, causing redness and swelling, when you have a cut.

Adaptive Immunity

This type of immunity is created in response to exposure to a foreign substance. When a foreign invader enters the body, the immune system takes it in and analyzes its every detail. Then the adaptive immune response organizes cells to attach that foreign substance every time they enter the body. The adaptive immune cells actually have a memory and know how to fight off certain invaders. One example is the chickenpox vaccination so that we don’t get chickenpox because adaptive immunity system has remembered the foreign body. 

Innate vs. Adaptive Immunity: Comparison

Innate and adaptive immunity is a very complex biological process. To make it easier to understand, the information below compares the two types and how they work together to protect the body.

Innate Immune System

This is the attack part of your immune system that is always on the alert. It is very powerful and quick to act on invaders. If you get cut, this is the first responder and it gets any unfriendly guests that come into the open wound. It gets anything and everything that isn’t supposed to be there. This system sends out immune cells from your white blood cells, in your skin and mucous membranes, and in blood and body fluids.

  • White Blood Cells – The innate immune system sends out cells that cause inflammation in the body. When you get a virus, it causes a fever which is part of the process of fighting the infection. If you have an injury, you get swelling and redness which is part of the immune system sending cells to repair damage. Antibodies created by the adaptive immunity can also join in on the battle because they “remember” how the invader works. This is particularly the case when you get the flu after having a flu shot. Your body recognizes this bug and you get a much milder case.
  • The Skin and Mucous Membranes – The skin and mucous membranes are a big part of the innate immune system. They help to stop invaders from getting into the body in the first place. They also contain chemicals that don’t allow viruses or bacteria to even be there in the first place. For example, Cilia are tiny little hairs in the lungs or nose that sweep away bacteria and germs.
  • Blood and Body Fluids – Ever get something in your eye and tear up. No it didn’t make you sad, but your tears wash away bacteria and germs from your eyes. Your blood and all of your body fluids contain enzymes that can kill off germs.

Adaptive Immune System

Your innate immune system is your body’s first responder. If it cannot get all of an infection, your body sends out the adaptive immune system. Because this part of your immune system has to learn the behaviors of the foreign invader, it can take up to 7 days to kick in. It can also fight off certain things over and over again, like when we get influenza.

This part of your immune system has a great memory. Research has even found that the cells do have an actual memory. One benefit is all those childhood illnesses you had like chicken pox, measles, and the mumps will be remembered and you don’t have to suffer through them again.

There are a few helpers in your adaptive immune system that help it do its job. These are:

  • T-Lymphocytes – These guys go out and recognize things that can cause infection. They destroy the cells and get them out of your system. They are a type of white blood cell that come from your bone marrow. They grow up to adult T-Lymphocytes in your thymus gland and have the ability to bind to infectious cells. When they bind with infectious cells, the T cells grow and divide quickly and overcome the invader. These cells also have back-up to help them fight. These include T-helper cells, cytotoxic T cells, regulatory T cells, and memory T cells.
  • B-Lymphocytes – While the T cells are working hard to fight off an invader, the B-Lymphocytes are already working to make antibodies to the infection. These are released into the bloodstream with special proteins that specifically know to fight off this one infection. They hitch a ride on immune system chemicals known as cytokines. Or they catch a ride directly on the immune cells that are fighting the infection.

Below is the comparison chart of innate vs. adaptive immunity:

Adaptive Immunity

Innate Immunity

Ability to fight specific infection

Fights any foreign invader

Uses “helpers” (T Cells and B Cells)

Uses enzymes that kill infection

Produces antibodies that recognize the invader (Lifetime immunity)

The skin is part of the innate immune system

Takes up to one week to kick in

First line of defense

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