The lymphoid organs’ purpose is to administer immunity for the body. This second write-up in a six-part series defines the major and secondary lymphoid organs and also their clinical meaning and also structure. It comes with a self-assessment allowing you to test your understanding after reading it


This article is the second in a six-component series about the lymphatic device. It discusses the role of the lymphoid organs, which is to develop and carry out immunity for the body. The major lymphoid organs are the red bone marrow, in which blood and also immune cells are produced, and also the thymus, wbelow T-lymphocytes mature. The lymph nodes and spleen are the major second lymphoid organs; they filter out pathogens and also maintain the population of mature lymphocytes.

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Citation: Nigam Y, Knight J (2020) The lymphatic system 2: structure and also function of the lymphoid organs. Nursing Times ; 116: 11, 44-48.

Authors: Yamni Nigam is professor in biomedical science; John Knight is associate professor in biomedical science; both at the College of Human and also Health Sciences, Swansea University.

This write-up has actually been double-blind peer reviewed


This post discusses the major lymphoid organs and also their function in arising and also giving immunity for the body. The lymphoid organs include the red bone marrow, thymus, spleen and also clusters of lymph nodes (Fig 1). They have actually many type of practical roles in the body, most notably:

Production of blood cells, consisting of red blood cells (erythrocytes), white blood cells (leucocytes) and also platelets (thrombocytes);Removal of damaged red blood cells;Maturation of immune cells;Trapping international material.

The red bone marrow and also thymus are thought about to be major lymphoid organs, because the majority of immune cells originate in them.


The red bone marrow

Bone marrowhead is a soft, gelatinous tworry existing in the central cavity of long bones such as the femur and also humerus. Blood cells and immune cells aincrease from the bone marrow; they build from immature stem cells (haemocytoblasts), which follow distinct developpsychological pathways to become either erythrocytes, leucocytes or plateallows. Stem cells rapidly multiply to make billions of blood cells each day; this procedure is known as haematopoiesis and is outlined in Fig 2.


To ensure tright here is a continuous production and also differentiation of blood cells to replace those lost to feature or age, haematopoietic stem cells are current through adulthood. In the embryo, blood cells are initially made in the yolk sac but, as development of the embryo proceeds, this attribute is taken over by the spleen, lymph nodes and also liver. Later in gestation, the bone marrow takes over many haematopoietic functions so that, at birth, the whole skeleton is filled through red bone marrowhead.

Red bone marrow produces all erythrocytes, leucocytes and also plateallows. Haematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow follow either the myeloid or lymphoid lineages to produce distinctive blood cells (Fig 2); these encompass myeloid progenitor cells (monocytes, macropheras, neutrophils, basophils, eosinophils, erythrocytes, dendritic cells and platelets), and also lymphoid progenitor cells (T-lymphocytes, B-lymphocytes and also natural killer cells).

Some lymphoid cells (lymphocytes) start life in the red bone marrow and become totally formed in the lymphatic organs, including the thymus, spleen and lymph nodes. As puberty is reached and also expansion slows dvery own, physiological conversion occurs, altering red bone marrow to yellow bone marrow. This whole process is completed by the age of 25 years, as soon as red bone marrow circulation mirrors its adult pattern in the bones.

The pattern is characterised by:

The existence of red bone marrowhead in the axial skeleton (the vertebral bodies, sacral bone and medial components of the hip bones) and articular ends of the humeral and also feethical bones;The a lot of distal components of the skeleton being filled with yellow bone marrow just, which mainly acts as a save for fats, offering sustenance and also preserving the correct atmosphere for the bone to feature.

However before, under specific problems, such as severe blood loss or fever, the yellow marrow may revert back to red marrow (Malkiewicz and also Dziedzic 2012).

Bone marrowhead conditions and also transplants

Any disease or disorder that poses a threat to the bone marrow deserve to influence many type of body systems, especially if it prevents stem cells from turning into essential cells. Those recognized to damages the marrow’s productive ability and destroy stem cells include:

Leukaemia;Hodgkin’s lymphoma;Other lymphomas.

A thriving variety of diseases deserve to be treated via a bone marrowhead transplant or haematopoietic stem cell transfer; this is often completed by harvesting suitable donor stem cells from the posterior iliac crests of the hip bone, wright here the concentration of red bone marrow is greatest.

The thymus

The thymus gland also is a bi-lobed, pinkish-grey organ located just over the heart in the mediastinum, where it rests below the sternum (breastbone). Structurally, the thymus resembles a tiny bow tie, which gradually atrophies (shrinks) via age. In pre-pubescents, the thymus is a fairly big and also very energetic body organ that, typically, weighs about 40g, but in a middle-aged adult it might have shrunk sufficiently to be tough to find. By 20 years of age, the thymus is 50% smaller than it was at birth, and also by 60 years of age it has shrunk to a 6th of its original size (Bilder, 2016); this is referred to as thymic involution

Each of the two lobes of the thymus is surrounded by a capsule, within which are many tiny lobules – frequently measuring 2-3mm in width – which are hosted together by loose connective tproblem. Each lobule is composed of follicles that are written of a frame of thyomsin-secreting epithelial cells and also a populace of T-lymphocytes; these cells are generally referred to as T-cells (the ‘T’ denotes their beginning as mature cells from the thymus). Lobules have 2 unique areas:

A thick external cortex that is well-off in actively splitting T-cells;An inner medulla, which is much paler in colour and features as a space of T-cell maturation.

In addition to being a major lymphoid organ, the thymus is likewise recognised as part of the endocrine device because it secretes a family members of hormones collectively referred to as thymosin; this is a group of several structurally associated hormones secreted by the thymic epithelial cells. These hormones are essential for normal immune attribute and many type of members of the thymosin family are supplied therapeutically to treat cancers, infections and conditions such as multiple sclerosis (Severa et al, 2019).

Role in T-cell maturation

T-cells originate as haematopoietic stem cells from the red bone marrowhead (Fig 2). A population of these haematopoietic stem cells infiltrate the thymus, splitting further within the cortical areas of the lobules then migrating into the medullary areas to mature right into energetic T-cells; this procedure of T-cell maturation is managed by the hormone thymosin. A propercentage of these mature T-cells continually move from the thymus right into the blood and also various other lymphoid organs (spleen and also lymph nodes), wbelow they play a major role in the body’s specific immune responses (which will be disputed in detail in component 3 of this series). The prestige of these cells is apparent in patients that have actually depleted T-cell populaces, such as those infected with HIV.

One of the the majority of crucial attributes of the thymus is programming T-cells to recognise ‘self’ antigens via a procedure called thymic education. This procedure allows mature T-cells to distinguish international, and also therefore potentially pathogenic, product from antigens that belengthy to the body. It has been demonstrated that removal of the thymus might result in an increase in autoimmune conditions, as this capacity to recognise self is diminished (Sherer et al, 1999).

Clinical significance

Diseases of the thymus encompass thymic cancer and myasthenia gravis (MG). MG occurs when the thymus produces antibodies that block or destroy the muscle-receptor sites, causing the muscles to come to be weak and quickly worn down. It many frequently affects muscles that regulate the eyes and eyelids, bring about droopy eyelids and also obstacle making facial expressions; chewing, swenabling and also speaking likewise end up being tough. MG can affect human being of any type of age, however generally starts in womales aged 60 years.

In a lot of situations of either MG or thymic cancer, thymectomy is recommfinished. Patients that have actually had a thymectomy may build an immunodeficiency known as Good syndrome, which increases their susceptibility to bacterial, fungal and viral opportunistic pathogens; this condition is, but, relatively rare.

The spleen

The spleen and lymph nodes are 2 major second lymphoid organs that play essential functions in:

Filtering out and damaging unwanted pathogens;Maintaining the populace of mature lymphocytes (which are white blood cells) to permit the adaptive immune response to start.

When foreign antigens reach these organs, they initiate lymphocyte activation and also succeeding clonal expansion and maturation of these important white blood cells. Mature lymphocytes deserve to then leave the second organs to enter the circulation, or take a trip to other areas, and also taracquire foreign antigens.

The spleen is the biggest lymphoid organ. Situated in the upper left hypochondriac area of the abdominal cavity, in between the diaphragm and the fundus of the stomach, it primarily attributes as a filter for the blood, bringing it into close contact through scavenging phagocytes (white blood cells in the spleen that will seek out and ‘eat’ any type of pathogens in the blood) and also lymphocytes.

Due to its extensive vascularisation, the spleen is a dark-purplish oval-shaped organ; in adults it is around 12cm lengthy, 7cm wide and weighs about 150g. However before, the dimension of the spleen can differ with circumstance: it diminishes in starvation, after hefty exercise and following major haemorrhage (Gujar et al, 2017), and also recent investigations indicate a boost in dimension in well-fed people and during the ingestion of food (Garnitschnig et al, 2020).

The spleen (Fig 3) is enclosed in a dense, fibro-elastic capsule that protrudes into the body organ as trabeculae; these trabeculae constitute the organ’s frame. Blood enters the spleen from the splenic artery and also leaves via the splenic vein, both of which are at the hilum; the splenic vein eventually becomes a tributary of the hepatic portal vein.


The spleen is made up of two regions:

Stroma – consisting of the thick external capsule with its trabeculae, some fibres and also fibroblasts (cells that secrete connective tissue collagen);Parenchyma – written of two forms of intermingling tconcern dubbed white pulp and red pulp.

White pulp is a mass of germinal centres of splitting B-lymphocytes (B-cells), surrounded by T-cells and accessory cells, consisting of macropheras and also dendritic cells; these cells are arranged as lymphatic nodules around branches of the splenic artery. As blood flows right into the spleen via the splenic artery, it enters smaller sized, central arteries of the white pulp, eventually getting to the red pulp. The red pulp is a spongy tworry, accounting for 75% of the splenic volume (Pivkin et al, 2016); it is composed of blood-filled venous sinsupplies and also splenic cords.

Splenic cords are made up of red and white blood cells and plasma cells (antibody-developing B-cells); therefore, the red pulp primarily functions as a filtration system for the blood, whereas the white pulp is wright here adaptive T- and B-cell responses are installed. The colour of the white pulp is derived from the very closely packed lymphocytes and also the red pulp’s colour is as a result of high numbers of erythrocytes (Stewart and also McKenzie, 2002).


The spleen has actually 3 significant functions:

To mount an immune response and also remove micro-organisms from circulation;To damage damaged and worn-out red blood cells;To save plateallows (and also blood).

The spleen’s primary immunological attribute is to rerelocate micro-organisms from circulation. The lymphatic nodules are arranged as sleeves around the blood vessels, bringing blood into the spleen. Within the white pulp are splenic nodules dubbed Malpighian corpuscles, which are well-off in B-cells, so this percent of lymphoid tproblem is quick to respond to foreign antigenic stimulation by developing antibodies. The walls of the meshoccupational of sinoffers in the red pulp also contain phagocytes that engulf foreign pwrite-ups and cell debris, properly filtering and also rerelocating them from circulation.

In the spleen’s destruction of old and also senescent red blood cells, they are digested by phagocytic macrophperiods in the red pulp. The haemoglobin is then separation acomponent into haem and also globin. The globin is damaged down right into its constituent amino acids, which can be utilised in the synthesis of a new protein. Haem consists of an iron atom surrounded four non-iron (pyrrole) rings.

The iron is removed and transported to be stored as ferritin, then reoffered to make new haemoglobin in the red bone marrow; macrophages convert the pyrfunction rings into the green pigment biliverdin and also then into the yellow pigment bilirubin. Both are transported to the liver bound to plasma albumin. Bilirubin, the even more toxic pigment, is conjugated in the liver to develop a less toxic compound, which is excreted in bile.

The red pulp partly serves to store a large reserve of the body’s plateallows – up to a 3rd of the total platelet supply. In some pets – specifically athletic mammals such as steeds, greyhounds and foxes – the spleen is also a vital reservoir of blood, which is released into circulation during times of tension to enhance aerobic performance. In people, but, the spleen contributes just a little percentage of blood cells into active circulation under physiological stress; the total stored blood volume is believed to be only 200-250ml (Bakovic et al, 2005). The capsule of the spleen might contract following haemorrhage, releasing this reserve into circulation in the body.

The spleen additionally plays a minor function in haematopoiesis: generally occuring in foetsupplies of as much as five months’ gestation, erythrocytes, in addition to the bone marrowhead, are developed by the spleen.

Clinical significance

As the spleen is the biggest repertoire of lymphoid tconcern in the body, infections that cause white blood cell proliferation and also antigenic stimulation may cause germinal centres in the body organ to expand also, leading to its enlargement (splenomegaly). This happens in many diseases – for example, malaria, cirrhosis and also leukaemia. The spleen is not typically palpable, however an enlarged spleen is palpable in the time of deep impetus. Enlargement may likewise be resulted in by any kind of obstruction in blood flow, for example in the hepatic portal vein.


The anatomical place of the spleen corresponds via the left tenth rib. Given its proximity to the abdominal wall, it is one of the many generally injured organs in blunt abdominal trauma. The spleen is a breakable organ and also, because of its extremely vascularised nature, any type of injury resulting in rupture will quickly result in serious intraperitoneal haemorrhage; death may outcome because of enormous blood loss and shock.

A moderate splenic injury may be managed conservatively, however an broadly burst or ruptured spleen may be treated by complete and prompt removal (splenectomy). However before, present information supports successful non-operative management of many type of traumatic splenic injuries, via the intention of reducing the require for complete removal (Armstrong et al, 2019).

Patients being treated for specific malignant conditions may also need a partial or total splenectomy and, although other structures such as the bone marrow and also liver deserve to take over some of the functions that are commonly lugged out by the spleen, such patients may be at boosted threat of infection. With an overwhelming post-splenectomy infection, tright here is also an boosted risk of sepsis, which is linked with significant morbidity and mortality. Infection is typically with encapsulated pathogens, consisting of Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae and also Neisseria meningitidis. Clinical guidelines to aid reduce the danger of infection advocate education and learning about infection prevention, vaccination and antibiotic prophylaxis (Arnott et al, 2018).

“Swollen lymph nodes and a fever before are certain indicators that the body is mounting an effective immune response against an offfinishing pathogen”

Lymph nodes

Lymph nodes differ in size and form, but are typically bean-shaped structures uncovered clustered at specific locations throughout the body. Although their dimension varies, each node has actually a characteristic internal structure (Fig 4).


The central parts of the lymph node are vital to its function; below, tbelow are huge numbers of resolved macrophages, which phagocytose foreign material such as bacteria on contact, and also populations of B- and T-cells. Lymph nodes are vital to many antibody-mediated immune responses: as soon as the phagocytic macropheras trap pathogenic product, that material is presented to the lymphocytes so antibodies have the right to be created.

Each lymph node is provided by one or more afferent lymphatic vessels, which provide crude, unmodified lymph straight from neighbouring tworries. A healthy and balanced, fully functioning node gets rid of the majority of pathogens from the lymph prior to the fluid leaves using one or even more efferent lymphatic vessels. In addition to its lymphatic supply, each lymph node is gave with blood through a little artery; the artery delivers a variety of leucocytes, which populate the inner areas of the node.

When infection is existing, the lymph nodes become progressively metabolically active and their oxygen demands rise. A little vein carries deoxygenated blood away from each node and retransforms it to the significant veins. In times of infection, this venous blood might lug a range of chemical messengers (cytokines) that are developed by the resident leucocytes in the nodes. These cytokines act as basic warning signals, alerting the body to the potential threat and also activating a selection of particular immune reactions.


The framework of a lymph node is not unfavor that of the spleen. Each lymph node is divided right into several regions:

Fibrous capsule – this creates a protective external sheath and also has trabeculae that extend periodically into the node, subseparating it into little compartments;Outer cortex (nodular cortex) – simply inside the capsular margin, this is composed of countless follicles that are wealthy in B-cells. When pathogens are present, these follicles expand also to reveal influential germinal centres containing actively splitting, antibody-secreting B-cells;Inner cortex (paracortex) – this is simply below the external cortex and also is specifically well-off in T-cells, which likewise continually circulate throughout the majority of various other areas of the node;Medulla – the main inner percent of the node that includes big numbers of solved phagocytic macrophperiods. These continually monitor the lymph for possibly pathogenic foreign material (a procedure known as immuno-surveillance), which they phagocytose on contact.Clinical significance

During infection, antibody-creating B-cells begin to proliferate in the germinal centres, bring about the affected lymph nodes to enlarge and come to be palpable and also tender. A few of the cytokines released are pyrogenic (definition they reason fever) and act directly on the thermoregulatory centre in the hypothalamus to rise body temperature. As the majority of humale pathogens divide optimally at about 37°C, this rise in body temperature serves to slow-moving dvery own bacterial replication, enabling the infection to be dealt with even more properly by the immune device. Swollen lymph nodes and also a fever before are both certain indicators that the body is mounting an efficient immune response against the offfinishing pathogen; this will certainly be disputed in even more detail in part 3 of this series.

Other lymphatic components

Other types of lymphatic tworry also exist. Mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) is positioned to defend the respiratory and also gastrointestinal tracts from invasion by microbes. The complying with are comprised of MALT:

Gut-connected lymphoid tissue;Bronchus-linked lymphoid tissue;The palatine, lingual and also pharyngeal tonsils.

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The tonsils are aggreentrances of lymphatic tconcern strategically situated to proccasion international product and pathogens from entering the body. The palatine tonsils are in the pharynx, the lingual tonsils in the dental cavity and the pharyngeal tonsils (adenoids) are at the earlier of the nasal cavity; as an outcome of this, the tonsils themselves are at high danger of infection and inflammation (tonsillitis). This will certainly additionally be questioned even more in part 3.