Why Would A Body Cell That Is Not A Phagocyte Need To Present Antigens?

In the human body, the immune system plays a crucial role in defending against infections and diseases. One important aspect of the immune response is the recognition of foreign substances known as antigens. While it is well-known that phagocytes, a type of immune cell, present antigens, it is less commonly understood why other body cells may also need to present antigens. In this article, we will explore the reasons why non-phagocyte body cells may need to present antigens.

Antigen Presentation

Antigen presentation is a process by which cells in the body display small pieces of foreign substances, known as antigens, on their surface. These antigens are then recognized by other immune cells, which trigger an immune response to eliminate the foreign invader.

The process of antigen presentation is typically associated with phagocytes, which are immune cells that engulf and destroy invading pathogens. Phagocytes are known to present antigens on their surface, which then interact with T cells, another type of immune cell, to activate an immune response.

However, it is now understood that non-phagocyte cells can also present antigens. These cells include cells from various tissues such as skin, liver, and gut.

Reasons for Antigen Presentation by Non-Phagocyte Cells

There are several reasons why non-phagocyte cells may need to present antigens.

Viral Infections

When a virus infects a cell, it replicates inside the cell and produces viral proteins. Non-phagocyte cells that are infected with a virus can present these viral proteins as antigens to the immune system. This triggers an immune response that targets and eliminates the virus-infected cells.


Cancer cells can produce abnormal proteins that are recognized by the immune system as foreign antigens. Non-phagocyte cells in the vicinity of the cancer cells can present these abnormal proteins as antigens, which can then trigger an immune response to target the cancer cells.

Autoimmune Diseases

In autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakenly targets and attacks healthy cells in the body. Non-phagocyte cells that are targeted by the immune system in autoimmune diseases can present self-antigens, which can then trigger an immune response to eliminate the targeted cells.

Therapeutic Applications

Antigen presentation by non-phagocyte cells has important therapeutic implications. For example, it has been shown that skin cells can be genetically modified to express antigens from pathogens, and then used as a vaccine to stimulate an immune response against the pathogen.


While it is commonly understood that phagocytes present antigens to activate an immune response, non-phagocyte cells in the body can also present antigens. This is important in the recognition and elimination of viral infections and cancer cells, as well as in the development of autoimmune diseases. The therapeutic applications of antigen presentation by non-phagocyte cells also offer promising avenues for future research and development of immunotherapies.

Was this article helpful?