Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Macrophage: Honey Badger of the Immune System

I've been trying to reacquaint myself with how the immune system works in the hopes I'll understand what the hell is going on next month when I do Oncology.

Besides the fact that wow, how did I get through med school? I've learned that absurd metaphors help me retain what I've read/doodling makes it seem like you're studying for much longer than you actually are.

For your reference: The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger

"The honey badger has been referred to by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most fearless animal in the animal kingdom. It really doesn't give a shit."

Similarly, the macrophage doesn't give a shit. As a white blood cell that hangs out in your tissues, it'll eat anything. In fact, when it's just hanging, living its life, it functions much as a garbage collector does.

Though my garbage people don't typically eat whatever they find laying around.

The toothless sanitation workers from college who probably masqueraded in white gowns and hoods on the weekends excepted. "Honey badger don't care, it just takes what it wants."

"There he goes running in slow-mo again."

I imagine the macrophage also just poking along, taking in the scenery, UNTIL... it receives a signal from a helper T cell that something that's not supposed to be there (e.g. enemy saliva leeching through a skin punctured by a fang) is now there.

He's wearing an apron because Helper! And though it's not as widely recognized to us, interferon gamma is basically the bat signal for the phagocytic (cells that eat things) world.

"The honey badger is really pretty bad ass. They have no regard for any other animal whatsoever... Ooh look it's chasing things! And eating them!"

Thus activated, the macrophage goes to the area that's emitting the bat signal and starts chowing down on invaders. It spews out pieces of invaders. This excrement serves as a welcome mat for MORE phagocytic and warrior cells to come to the scene and eat bad guys.

The macrophage does keep some of the invader bits to adorn its membrane with. Like trophies.

Other white blood cells see these trophies as challenges and are like, OH YEAH BABY, I'M GONNA FIND ME SOME OF THAT TOO and rush to join.

"But look! The honey badger doesn't care it's getting stung like a thousand times; it doesn't give a shit, it's hungry."

And oh, if a bacterium emits something sayyy, a lipopolysaccharide, a calling card of sorts, and it hits the macrophage head on? No T-cell intermediary? Oh the macrophage is one crazy fuck. It becomes HYPERACTIVATED (real term) and "honey badger don't care, honey badger smacks the shit out of it."

It's so tormented it starts sweating off tumor necrosis factor alpha. Smelling that sweat is an aphrodisiac to the rest of the white blood cells. They come a runnin'.

I don't know that honey badgers carry around little sacks of poison (the lysosomes pictured), but I wouldn't be at all surprised.

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