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the lymphatic systems

Major components

Lymph nodes: Small, bean-shaped structures that produce and store cells that fight infection and disease and are part of the lymphatic system— which consists of bone marrow, spleen, thymus and lymph nodes, according to “A Practical Guide To Clinical Medicine” from the University of California San Diego (UCSD). Lymph nodes also contain lymph, the clear fluid that carries those cells to different parts of the body. When the body is fighting infection, lymph nodes can become enlarged and feel sore.

Spleen: The largest lymphatic organ in the body, which is on your left side, under your ribs and above your stomach, contains white blood cells that fight infection or disease. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the spleen also helps control the amount of blood in the body and disposes of old or damaged blood cells.

Bone marrow: The yellow tissue in the center of the bones produces white blood cells. This spongy tissue inside some bones, such as the hip and thigh bones, contains immature cells, called stem cells, according to the NIH. Stem cells, especially embryonic stem cells, which are derived from eggs fertilized in vitro (outside of the body), are prized for their flexibility in being able to morph into any human cell. 

Lymphocytes: These small white blood cells play a large role in defending the body against disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. The two types of lymphocytes are B-cells, which make antibodies that attack bacteria and toxins, and T-cells, which help destroy infected or cancerous cells. Killer T-cells are a subgroup of T-cells that kill cells that are infected with viruses and other pathogens or are otherwise damaged. Helper T-cells help determine which immune responses the body makes to a particular pathogen.

Thymus: This small organ is where T-cells mature. This often-overlooked part of the immune system, which is situated beneath the breastbone (and is shaped like a thyme leaf, hence the name), can trigger or maintain the production of antibodies that can result in muscle weakness, the Mayo Clinic said. Interestingly, the thymus is somewhat large in infants, grows until puberty, then starts to slowly shrink and become replaced by fat with age, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.