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What are Germinal Centers?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Long
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 06 December 2016
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Germinal centers, also commonly written as GC or germinal centres, are the specific areas in the lymph nodules in peripheral lymph tissues or lymph nodes within the body. In these areas, B cells multiply, grow, and mutate. In the beginning, these B cells are called centroblasts. After they have stopped multiplying, they are called centrocytes.

The lymphatic system plays a large part in the function of the body’s immune system and its responses. The lymph nodes are like filters for germs and other foreign substances that enter the body. As pathogens are filtered, white blood cells and other defense cells can destroy them before they circulate through the body.

Germinal centers hold the B cells that transform into plasma cells or memory B cells. The plasma cells produce antibodies. Antibodies bind to the antigens held in the lymph nodes. From this point, the other cells of the immune system work together to destroy the antigens. T helper cells and natural killer cells are just two of the other cells the body produces that play a role in the immune system's fight to keep the body healthy.

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Plasma cells and memory B cells have different roles. The plasma cell serves the purpose of secreting and spreading antibodies. Memory B cells, on the other hand, have two purposes. They can remember contact with antigens, and also react if they come in contact with these antigens again. Memory B cells can also start the creation of new B cells in the germinal centers to continue producing more B cells for an ongoing immune system response.

Many illnesses and diseases can be diagnosed by the behavior of the lymph nodes. As a response to foreign substances, the production of B cells is triggered in the germinal centers. When there is a large response, the lymph nodes can become tender or swollen. In the case of many diseases, lymph nodes can be tested through a biopsy procedure to confirm a diagnosis.

For minor illnesses such as colds, swollen lymph glands can be a symptom. The body has many different locations for lymph nodes. When there are certain areas that experience swollen nodes, like the neck, doctors can use this to determine what might be wrong and come up with an effective treatment plan. The lymph nodes and their germinal centers must function properly to ensure that the immune system responds as needed to the invasion of foreign substances.

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