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AP Biology Free Response Questions (FRQ) – Past Prompts

34 min read • december 29, 2020

Dylan Black

Dylan Black

Dalia Savy

We’ve compiled a list of a bunch of the AP Biology past prompts! The AP Bio FRQs are 60% of the exam including 2 long questions and 4 short questions. It’s important that you understand the rubrics and question styles going into the exam. Use this list to practice!

By practicing with previously released free-response questions (FRQs), you’ll build critical-thinking and analytical skills that will prepare you for the exam. These past prompts have been designed to help you connect concepts and ideas to each other while applying your knowledge to real-life scenarios. You’ll also learn how to tackle the exam in a better format, and you won’t be surprised come test day with certain questions.

All recredit to College Board.

👉 AP Bio 2019 FRQs

Long FRQ #1

Gene expression and regulation, ecology (gene expression and symbiosis).

Auxins are plant hormones that coordinate several aspects of root growth and development. Indole-3-acetic acid (IAA) is an auxin that is usually synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan (Figure 1). Gene Trp-T encodes an enzyme that converts tryptophan to indole-3-pyruvic acid (I3PA), which is then converted to IAA by an enzyme encoded by the gene YUC .

Circle ONE arrow that represents transcription on the template pathway. Identify the molecule that would be absent if enzyme YUC is nonfunctional.

Predict how the deletion of one base pair in the fourth codon of the coding region of gene Trp-T would most likely affect the production of IAA. Justify your prediction.

Explain one feedback mechanism by which a cell could prevent production of too much IAA without limiting I3PA production

Rhizobacteria are a group of bacteria that live in nodules on plant roots. Rhizobacteria can produce IAA and convert atmospheric nitrogen into forms that can be used by plants. Plants release carbon-containing molecules into the nodules. Based on this information, identify the most likely ecological relationship between plants and rhizobacteria. Describe ONE advantage to the bacteria of producing IAA.

A researcher removed a plant nodule and identified several “cheater” rhizobacteria that do not produce IAA or fix nitrogen. Describe the evolutionary advantage of being a bacterial cheater in a population composed predominantly of noncheater bacteria. Plants can adjust the amount of carbon-containing molecules released into nodules in response to the amount of nitrogen fixed in the nodule. Predict the change in the bacterial population that would cause the plant to reduce the amount of carbon-containing molecules provided to the nodule.

Long FRQ #2

Units 2 and 8 (competition and osmoregulation).

A student studying two different aquatic, plant-eating, unicellular protist species (species A and B) designed an experiment to investigate the ecological relationship between the two species (Table 1).

In treatment group I, the student placed 10 individuals of species A into a container with liquid growth medium and 10 individuals of species B into a separate container with an equal amount of the same liquid growth medium. In treatment group II, the student placed 5 individuals of each species into a single container with the liquid growth medium. The student then maintained the containers under the same environmental conditions and recorded the number of individuals in each population at various time points. The results are shown in Table 2.

The growth curves for species B in group I and for species A in group II (shaded columns) have been plotted on the template. Use the template to complete an appropriately labeled line graph to illustrate the growth of species A in treatment group I and species B in treatment group II (unshaded columns).

As shown in the table, the student established treatment group II with 5 individuals of each species. Provide reasoning for the reduced initial population sizes.

The student claims that species A and B compete for the same food source. Provide TWO pieces of evidence from the data that support the student’s claim.

Predict TWO factors that will most likely limit the population growth of species A in treatment group I.

Many protists contain an organelle called a contractile vacuole that pumps water out of the cell. The student repeated the experiment using a growth medium with a lower solute concentration. Predict how the activity of the contractile vacuole will change under the new experimental conditions. Justify your prediction.

Short FRQ #1

Cellular energetics, heredity (cellular respiration and sex linked inheritance).

The pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC) catalyzes the conversion of pyruvate to acetyl-CoA, a substrate for the Krebs (citric acid) cycle. The rate of pyruvate conversion is greatly reduced in individuals with PDC deficiency, a rare disorder.

Identify the cellular location where PDC is most active.

Make a claim about how PDC deficiency affects the amount of NADH produced by glycolysis AND the amount of NADH produced by the Krebs (citric acid) cycle in a cell. Provide reasoning to support your claims based on the position of the PDC-catalyzed reaction in the sequence of the cellular respiration pathway.

PDC deficiency is caused by mutations in the PDHA1 gene, which is located on the X chromosome. A male with PDC deficiency and a homozygous female with no family history of PDC deficiency have a male offspring. Calculate the probability that the male offspring will have PDC deficiency.

Short FRQ #2

Cell communication and cell cycle (cell signaling).

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that can activate an action potential in a postsynaptic neuron (Figures 1 and 2). A researcher is investigating the effect of a particular neurotoxin that causes the amount of acetylcholine released from presynaptic neurons to increase.

Describe the immediate effect of the neurotoxin on the number of action potentials in a postsynaptic neuron. Predict whether the maximum membrane potential of the postsynaptic neuron will increase, decrease, or stay the same.

The researcher proposes two models, A and B, for using acetylcholinesterase (AChE), an enzyme that degrades acetylcholine, to prevent the effect of the neurotoxin. In model A, AChE is added to the synapse. In model B, AChE is added to the cytoplasm of the postsynaptic cell. Predict the effectiveness of EACH proposed model. Provide reasoning to support your predictions.

Short FRQ #3

Natural selection (cladograms and evolutionary relationships).

A researcher studying the evolutionary relationship among five primate species obtained data from a sequence of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from a representative individual of each species. The researcher then calculated the percent divergence in the sequences between each pair of primate species (Table 1).

Based on fossil data, the researcher estimates that humans and their most closely related species in the data set diverged approximately seven million years ago. Using these data, calculate the rate of mtDNA percent divergence per million years between humans and their most closely related species in the data set. Round your answer to two decimal places.

Using the data in the table, construct a cladogram on the template provided. Provide reasoning for the placement of gibbons as the outgroup on the cladogram.

On the cladogram, draw a circle around all of the species that are descended from the species indicated by the node within the square.

Short FRQ #4

Cell communication and cell cycle (gene expression).

The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a single-celled organism. Amino acid synthesis in yeast cells occurs through metabolic pathways, and enzymes in the synthesis pathways are encoded by different genes. The synthesis of a particular amino acid can be prevented by mutation of a gene encoding an enzyme in the required pathway. A researcher conducted an experiment to determine the ability of yeast to grow on media that differ in amino acid content. Yeast can grow as both haploid and diploid cells. The researcher tested two different haploid yeast strains (Mutant 1 and Mutant 2), each of which has a single recessive mutation, and a haploid wild-type strain. The resulting data are shown in Table 1.

Identify the role of treatment I in the experiment.

Provide reasoning to explain how Mutant 1 can grow on treatment I medium but cannot grow on treatment III medium.

Yeast mate by fusing two haploid cells to make a diploid cell. In a second experiment, the researcher mates the Mutant 1 and Mutant 2 haploid strains to produce diploid cells. Using the table provided, predict whether the diploid cells will grow on each of the four media. Use a plus sign (+) to indicate growth and a minus sign (−) to indicate no growth.

Short FRQ #5

A researcher is studying patterns of gene expression in mice. The researcher collected samples from six different tissues in a healthy mouse and measured the amount of mRNA from six genes. The data are shown in Figure 1.

Based on the data provided, identify the gene that is most likely to encode a protein that is an essential component of glycolysis. Provide reasoning to support your identification.

The researcher observed that tissues with a high level of gene H mRNA did not always have gene H protein. Provide reasoning to explain how tissues with high gene H mRNA levels can have no gene H protein.

Short FRQ #6

Cell structure and function (cellular transport).

The petal color of the Mexican morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor ) changes from red to blue, and the petal cells swell during flower opening. The pigment heavenly blue anthocyanin is found in the vacuole of petal cells. Petal color is determined by the pH of the vacuole. A model of a morning glory petal cell before and after flower opening is shown in Table 1.

Identify the cellular component in the model that is responsible for the increase in the pH of the vacuole during flower opening AND describe the component’s role in changing the pH of the vacuole.

A researcher claims that the activation of the K+/H+ transport protein causes the vacuole to swell with water. Provide reasoning to support the researcher’s claim.

👉 AP Bio 2018 FRQs

Polar bears are highly adapted for life in cold climates around the North Pole. Brown bears, black bears, and pandas are found in warmer environments. Researchers collected complete mitochondrial DNA sequences from several populations of bears and constructed a phylogenetic tree to represent their evolutionary relatedness (Figure 1). A researcher studying adaptation in bears sequenced the nuclear gene encoding a lysosomal trafficking protein (LYST) in polar bears, brown bears, black bears, and panda bears. There are seven inferred amino acid substitutions that are found only in polar bears. Mutations that cause similar substitutions in the human LYST protein are associated with Chediak-Higashi syndrome, an autosomal recessive condition in which pigment is absent from the hair and eyes. The researcher used the inferred amino acid sequences to build the distance matrix shown in Table 1.

Use the phylogenetic tree in Figure 1 to estimate the age in hundreds of thousands of years of the most recent common ancestor of all brown bears. Identify the population of brown bears to which polar bears are most closely related based on the mitochondrial DNA sequence comparison. Identify two populations whose positions could be switched without affecting the relationships illustrated in the phylogenetic tree.

Construct a cladogram on the template to represent a model of the evolutionary relatedness among the bear species based on the differences in LYST protein sequences (Table 1). Circle the position on the cladogram that represents the out-group.

A student claims that mitochondrial DNA sequence comparisons provide a more accurate phylogeny of bear species than do LYST protein sequence comparisons. Provide ONE piece of reasoning to support the student’s claim.

A researcher genetically engineers a mouse strain by deleting the mouse lyst gene and replacing it with the polar bear lyst gene. Predict the most likely difference in phenotype of the transgenic mouse strain compared to the wild-type mouse strain. Justify your prediction.

Describe how the mutation in the lyst gene became common in the polar bear population. If the lyst gene were the only determinant of fur color, predict the percent of white offspring produced by a mating between a polar bear and a brown bear.

Cell Communication and Cell Cycle (Gene Regulation)

Some pathogenic bacteria enter cells, replicate, and spread to other cells, causing illness in the host organism. Host cells respond to these infections in a number of ways, one of which involves activating particular enzymatic pathways (Figure 1). Cells normally produce a steady supply of inactive caspase-1 protein. In response to intracellular pathogens, the inactive caspase-1 is cleaved and forms an active caspase-1 (step 1). Active caspase-1 can cleave two other proteins. When caspase-1 cleaves an inactive interleukin (step 2), the active portion of the interleukin is released from the cell. An interleukin is a signaling molecule that can activate the immune response. When caspase-1 cleaves gasdermin (step 3), the N-terminal portions of several gasdermin proteins associate in the cell membrane to form large, nonspecific pores. Researchers created the model in Figure 1 using data from cell fractionation studies. In the experiments, various parts of the cell were separated into fractions by mechanical and chemical methods. Specific proteins known to be located in different parts of the cell were used as markers to determine the location of other proteins. The table below shows the presence of known proteins in specific cellular fractions.

Describe the effect of inhibiting step 3 on the formation of pores AND on the release of interleukin from the cell.

Make a claim about how cleaving inactive caspase-1 results in activation of caspase-1. A student claims that preinfection production of inactive precursors shortens the response time of a cell to a bacterial infection. Provide ONE reason to support the student’s claim.

A student claims that the NF-kB protein is located in the cytoplasm until the protein is needed for transcription. Justify the student’s claim with evidence. Identify TWO fractions where N-terminal gasdermin would be found in cells infected with pathogenic bacteria.

Describe the most likely effect of gasdermin pore formation on water balance in the cell in a hypotonic environment.

Explain how gasdermin pore formation AND interleukin release contribute to an organism’s defense against a bacterial pathogen.

Seagrasses are aquatic plants that reproduce sexually. Male seagrass flowers produce sticky pollen that is carried by circulating water to female flowers, resulting in fertilization. A researcher claims that mobile aquatic invertebrates can also transfer pollen from male to female flowers in the absence of circulating water. To investigate this claim, the researcher set up aquariums to model the possible interactions between the invertebrates and seagrasses.

Use the symbols below and the template aquariums to demonstrate the experimental design for testing the researcher’s claim that mobile aquatic invertebrates can pollinate seagrass in the absence of circulating water. Draw the appropriate symbols in the negative control aquarium AND the experimental aquarium. Do not use any symbol more than once in the same aquarium.

Identify the dependent variable in the experiment. Predict the experimental results that would support the researcher’s claim that mobile aquatic invertebrates can also transfer pollen from male to female flowers in the absence of circulating water.

Cell Structure and Function (Cell Transport and Experimental Design)

The common bedbug ( Cimex lectularius ) is a species of insect that is becoming increasingly resistant to insecticides. Bedbugs possess several genes suspected of contributing to the resistance, including P450 , Abc8 , and Cps . To investigate the role of these genes in insecticide resistance, researchers deleted one or more of these genes in different strains of bedbugs, as indicated in Figure 1, and treated the strains with the insecticide beta-cyfluthrin. Each strain was genetically identical except for the deleted gene(s) and was equally fit in the absence of beta-cyfluthrin. The percent survival of each strain following beta-cyfluthrin treatment is shown in Figure 1.

Identify the control strain in the experiment. Use the means and confidence intervals in Figure 1 to justify the claim that Abc8 is effective at providing resistance to beta-cyfluthrin.

P450 encodes an enzyme that detoxifies insecticides. Abc8 encodes a transporter protein that pumps insecticides out of cells. Cps encodes an external structural protein located in the exoskeleton that greatly reduces the absorption of insecticides. Based on this information and the data in Figure 1, explain how a deletion of both P450 and Abc8 results in lower survival in bedbugs compared with a deletion of Cps only.

Ecology (Symbiotic Relationships)

Some birds, including great spotted cuckoos, lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, such as reed warblers. The warbler parents raise the unrelated chicks and provide them with food that would otherwise be given to their biological offspring. A researcher conducted an investigation to determine the type of relationship between warblers and cuckoos in an environment without predators. The researcher found that nests containing only warblers were more likely to be successful than nests containing warblers and cuckoos (data not shown). A successful nest is defined as a nest where at least one chick becomes an adult warbler. In some geographic areas, several species of nest predators are present. Researchers have found that cuckoo chicks, while in the nest, produce a smelly substance that deters nest predators. The substance does not remain in the nest if cuckoo chicks are removed. Figure 1 shows the probability that nests containing only warblers or containing both warblers and cuckoos will be successful in an environment with predators. In a follow-up experiment, the researchers added cuckoos to a nest that contained only warblers (group 1) and removed cuckoos from a nest containing warblers and cuckoos (group 2).

Describe the symbiotic relationship that exists between the cuckoo and warbler in an environment without predators.

On the template provided, draw bars in the appropriate locations to predict the relative probability of success for the nest in the presence of predators where:

the cuckoos were added to the nest containing only warblers (group 1)

the cuckoos were removed from the nest containing warblers and cuckoos (group 2)

Identify the symbiotic relationship that exists between the cuckoo and the warbler in the presence of predators.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition that is associated with defects in the CFTR protein. The CFTR protein is a gated ion channel that requires ATP binding in order to allow chloride ions (Cl−) to diffuse across the membrane.

In the provided model of a cell, draw arrows to describe the pathway for production of a normal CFTR protein from gene expression to final cellular location.

Identify the most likely cellular location of the ribosomes that synthesize CFTR protein.

Identify the most likely cellular location of a mutant CFTR protein that has an amino acid substitution in the ATP-binding site.

Heredity (Sex Linked Heredity)

In the tongue sole fish (Cynoglossus semilaevis), sex is determined by a combination of genetics and environmental temperature. Genetically male fish have two Z chromosomes (ZZ), and genetically female fish have one Z chromosome and one W chromosome (ZW). When fish are raised at 22℃, ZZ fish develop into phenotypic males and ZW fish develop into phenotypic females. However, when fish are raised at 28℃, the Z chromosome is modified (denoted as Z*). Z*W individuals develop as phenotypic males that are fertile and can pass on the Z* chromosome to their offspring even when the offspring are raised at 22℃. A cross between a ZW female and a Z*Z male is shown in the Punnett square below.

Predict the percent of phenotypic males among the F1 offspring of the cross shown in the Punnett square if the offspring are raised at 22℃.

At least one Z or Z* chromosome is necessary for survival of the fish. A researcher crossed two fish and observed a 2:1 ratio of males to females among the offspring. Based on the information, identify the genotype of the male parent in the cross. Describe ONE fitness cost to the female of mating with this particular male.

Cell Communication and Cell Cycle

Acetylcholine receptor (AChR) proteins are found at the synapse between neurons and skeletal muscle cells. Acetylcholine released from neurons binds to a specific site on the receptor proteins, which causes an ion channel in the receptors to open and allow sodium ions (Na+) to enter muscle cells. The resulting depolarization of muscle cells initiates muscle contractions. Another molecule, nicotine, can also bind to certain types of AChR proteins and activate the receptors.A researcher is investigating two different types of AChR proteins: type 1 and type 2. To determine which stimuli activate the receptors, the researcher exposes muscle cells expressing the different types of receptor proteins to stimuli and observes the results indicated in Table 1.

Describe the difference in the structure AND function between AChR type 1 and AChR type 2.

Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine in the synapse. Describe the effect of inhibiting acetylcholinesterase on the muscle cells with AChR type 2.

👉 AP Bio 2017 FRQs

Experimental Design and Cellular Energetics

In flowering plants, pollination is a process that leads to the fertilization of an egg and the production of seeds. Some flowers attract pollinators, such as bees, using visual and chemical cues. When a bee visits a flower, in addition to transferring pollen, the bee can take nectar from the flower and use it to make honey for the colony. Nectar contains sugar, but certain plants also produce caffeine in the nectar. Caffeine is a bitter-tasting compound that can be toxic to insects at high concentrations. To investigate the role of caffeine in nectar, a group of researchers studied the effect of 0.1 mM caffeine on bee behavior. The results of an experiment to test the effect of caffeine on bees’ memory of a nectar source are shown in Table 1.

On the axes provided, construct an appropriately labeled graph to illustrate the effect of caffeine on the probability of bees revisiting a nectar source (memory).

Based on the results, describe the effect of caffeine on each of the following:

Short-term (10 minute) memory of a nectar source

Long-term (24 hour) memory of a nectar source

Design an experiment using artificial flowers to investigate potential negative effects of increasing caffeine concentrations in nectar on the number of floral visits by bees. Identify the null hypothesis, an appropriate control treatment, and the predicted results that could be used to reject the null hypothesis.

Researchers found that nectar with caffeine tends to have a lower sugar content than nectar without caffeine. Plants use less energy to produce the caffeine in nectar than they do to produce the sugar in nectar. Propose ONE benefit to plants that produce nectar with caffeine and a lower sugar content. Propose ONE cost to bees that visit the flowers of plants that produce nectar with caffeine and a lower sugar content.

Ecology (Ecological Succession)

Fires frequently occur in some ecosystems and can destroy all above-ground vegetation. Many species of plants in these ecosystems respond to compounds in smoke that regulate seed germination after a major fire. Karrikins (KAR) and trimethylbutenolides (TMB) are water-soluble compounds found in smoke that are deposited in the soil as a result of a fire. KAR and TMB bind to receptor proteins in a seed. In a study on the effects of smoke on seeds, researchers recorded the timing and percent of seed germination in the presence of various combinations of KAR and TMB. The results are shown in Figure 1. In a second investigation into the effect of available water on seed germination after a fire, researchers treated seeds with KAR or TMB. The treated seeds were then divided into two treatment groups. One group received a water rinse and the other group received no water rinse. The seeds were then incubated along with a group of control seeds that were not treated. The results are shown in the table.

The researchers made the following claims about the effect of KAR and the effect of TMB on seed germination relative to the control treatment.

KAR alone affects the timing of seed germination.

KAR alone affects the percentage of seeds that germinate.

TMB alone affects the timing of seed germination.

TMB alone affects the percentage of seeds that germinate.

Provide support using data from Figure 1 for each of the researchers’ claims.

Make a claim about the effect of rinsing on the binding of KAR to the receptor in the seed and about the effect of rinsing on the binding of TMB to the receptor in the seed. Identify the appropriate treatment groups and results from the table that, when compared with the controls, provide support for each claim.

There is intense competition by plants to successfully colonize areas that have been recently cleared by a fire. Describe ONE advantage of KAR regulation and ONE advantage of TMB regulation to plants that live in an ecosystem with regular fires.

Cell Communication and Cell Cycle (Gene Regulation and Expression)

Gibberellin is the primary plant hormone that promotes stem elongation. GA 3-beta-hydroxylase (GA3H) is the enzyme that catalyzes the reaction that converts a precursor of gibberellin to the active form of gibberellin. A mutation in the GA3H gene results in a short plant phenotype. When a pure-breeding tall plant is crossed with a pure-breeding short plant, all offspring in the F1 generation are tall. When the F1 plants are crossed with each other, 75 percent of the plants in the F2 generation are tall and 25 percent of the plants are short.

The wild-type allele encodes a GA3H enzyme with alanine (Ala), a nonpolar amino acid, at position 229. The mutant allele encodes a GA3H enzyme with threonine (Thr), a polar amino acid, at position 229. Describe the effect of the mutation on the enzyme and provide reasoning to support how this mutation results in a short plant phenotype in homozygous recessive plants.

Using the codon chart provided, predict the change in the codon sequence that resulted in the substitution of alanine for threonine at amino acid position 229.

Describe how individuals with one (heterozygous) or two (homozygous) copies of the wild-type GA3H allele can have the same phenotype.

Ecology (Energy Diagrams)

The table above shows how much each organism in an aquatic ecosystem relies on various food sources. The rows represent the organisms in the ecosystem, and the columns represent the food source. The percentages indicate the proportional dietary composition of each organism. High percentages indicate strong dependence of an organism on a food source.

Based on the food sources indicated in the data table, construct a food web in the template below. Write the organism names on the appropriate lines AND draw the arrows necessary to indicate the energy flow between organisms in the ecosystem.

In an effort to control the number of midges, an area within the ecosystem was sprayed with the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae, which significantly decreased the midge population. Based on the data in the table, predict whether the spraying of the fungus will have the greatest short-term impact on the population of the stoneflies, the caddisflies, or the hellgrammites. Justify your prediction.

Cellular Energetics

Microcystis aeruginosis is a freshwater photosynthetic cyanobacterium. When temperatures increase and nutrients are readily available in its pond habitat, M. aeruginosis undergoes rapid cell division and forms an extremely large, visible mass of cells called an algal bloom. M. aeruginosis has a short life span and is decomposed by aerobic bacteria and fungi. Identify the metabolic pathway and the organism that is primarily responsible for the change in oxygen level in the pond between times I and II AND between times III and IV.

Cell Communication and Cell Cycle (DNA Structure and Function)

A comet assay is a technique used to determine the amount of double-strand breaks in DNA (DNA damage) in cells. The nucleus of an individual cell is placed on a microscope slide coated with an agarose gel. An electric current is applied to the gel that causes DNA to move (electrophoresis), and the DNA is stained with a fluorescent dye. When viewed using a microscope, undamaged DNA from the nucleus appears as a round shape (the head), and the fragments of damaged DNA extend out from the head (the tail). The length of the tail corresponds to the amount of the damage in the DNA (see Figure 1).

To explain the movement of DNA fragments in the comet assay, identify one property of DNA and provide reasoning to support how the property contributes to the movement during the comet assay technique.

In a different experiment, cells are treated with a chemical mutagen that causes only nucleotide substitutions in DNA. Predict the likely results of a comet assay for this treatment.

Cellular Energetics (Anaerobic Respiration)

Many species of bacteria grow in the mouths of animals and can form biofilms on teeth (plaque). Within plaque, the outer layers contain high levels of oxygen and the layers closest to the tooth contain low levels of oxygen. The surface of the tooth is covered in a hard layer of enamel, which can be dissolved under acidic conditions. When the enamel breaks down, the bacteria in plaque can extract nutrients from the tooth and cause cavities.Certain types of bacteria (e.g., Streptococcus mutans) thrive in the innermost anaerobic layers of the plaque and are associated with cavities. Other types of bacteria (Streptococcus sanguinis) compete with S. mutans but are unable to thrive in acidic environments.

Identify the biochemical pathway S. mutans uses for metabolizing sugar and describe how the pathway contributes to the low pH in the inner layers of plaque.

Normal tooth brushing effectively removes much of the plaque from the flat surfaces of teeth but cannot reach the surfaces between teeth. Many commercial toothpastes contain alkaline components, which raise the pH of the mouth. Predict how the population sizes of S. mutans AND S. sanguinis in the bacterial community in the plaque between the teeth are likely to change when these toothpastes are used.

Cell Structure and Function Cell Transport

Estrogens are small hydrophobic lipid hormones that promote cell division and the development of reproductive structures in mammals. Estrogens passively diffuse across the plasma membrane and bind to their receptor proteins in the cytoplasm of target cells.

Describe ONE characteristic of the plasma membrane that allows estrogens to passively cross the membrane.

In a laboratory experiment, a researcher generates antibodies that bind to purified estrogen receptors extracted from cells. The researcher uses the antibodies in an attempt to treat estrogen-dependent cancers but finds that the treatment is ineffective. Explain the ineffectiveness of the antibodies for treating estrogen-dependent cancers.

👉 AP Bio 2016 FRQs

Cell Communication and Cell Cycle (Gene Regulation and Experimental Design)

Leucine aminopeptidases (LAPs) are found in all living organisms and have been associated with the response of the marine mussel, Mytilus edulis , to changes in salinity. LAPs are enzymes that remove N-terminal amino acids from proteins and release the free amino acids into the cytosol. To investigate the evolution of LAPs in wild populations of M. edulis , researchers sampled adult mussels from several different locations along a part of the northeast coast of the United States, as shown in Figure 1. The researchers then determined the percent of individuals possessing a particular lap allele, lap94 , in mussels from each sample site (table 1).

On the axes provided, construct an appropriately labeled bar graph to illustrate the observed frequencies of the lap 94 allele in the study populations.

Based on the data, describe the most likely effect of salinity on the frequency of the lap 94 allele in the marine mussel populations in Long Island Sound. Predict the likely lap 94 allele frequency at a sampling site between site 1 and site 2 in Long Island Sound.

Describe the most likely effect of LAP94 activity on the osmolarity of the cytosol. Describe the function of LAP94 in maintaining water balance in the mussels living in the Atlantic Ocean.

Marine mussel larvae are evenly dispersed throughout the study area by water movement. As larvae mature, they attach to the rocks in the water. Explain the differences in lap94 allele frequency among adult mussel populations at the sample sites despite the dispersal of larvae throughout the entire study area. Predict the likely effect on distribution of mussels in Long Island Sound if the lap94 allele was found in all of the mussels in the population. Justify your prediction.

Cell Communication and Cell Cycle and Ecology (Gene Regulation, Ecology, and Experimental Design)

Bacteria can be cultured in media with a carefully controlled nutrient composition. The graph above shows the growth of a bacterial population in a medium with limiting amounts of two nutrients, I and II.

Estimate the maximum population density in cells/mL for the culture. Using the data, describe what prevents further growth of the bacterial population in the culture.

Using the data, calculate the growth rate in cells/mL×hour of the bacterial population between hours 2 and 4.

Identify the preferred nutrient source of the bacteria in the culture over the course of the experiment. Use the graph to justify your response. Propose ONE advantage of the nutrient preference for an individual bacterium.

Describe how nutrient I most likely regulates the genes for metabolism of nutrient I and the genes for metabolism of nutrient II. Provide TWO reasons that the population does not grow between hours 5 and 6.

The graph above illustrates the percent dry weight of different parts of a particular annual plant (plants that live less than one year) from early May to late August. The percent dry weight can be used to estimate the amount of energy a plant uses to produce its leaves, vegetative buds, stems, roots, and reproductive parts (seeds, receptacles, and flowers).

Identify the direct source of the energy used for plant growth during the first week of May, and identify the part of the plant that grew the most during the same period.

Based on the data on the graph, estimate the percent of the total energy that the plant has allocated to the growth of leaves on the first day of July.

Compared with perennials (plants that live more than two years), annual plants often allocate a much greater percentage of their total energy to growth of their reproductive parts in any given year. Propose ONE evolutionary advantage of the energy allocation strategy in annual plants compared with that in perennial plants.

The figure represents the process of expression of gene X in a eukaryotic cell.

The primary transcript in the figure is 15 kilobases (kb) long, but the mature mRNA is 7 kb in length. Describe the modification that most likely resulted in the 8 kb difference in length of the mature mRNA molecule. Identify in your response the location in the cell where the change occurs.

Predict the length of the mature gene X mRNA if the full-length gene is introduced and expressed in prokaryotic cells. Justify your prediction.

Ecology (Ecological Relationships)

The graph above shows the mass of plants from two different species over time. The plants grew while attached to each other. The plants were separated at the time indicated by the vertical line in the graph. Using template 1, graph the predicted shape of the plant-mass lines after separation of the two plants if the plants were in an obligate mutualistic relationship. On template 2, graph the predicted shape of the plant-mass lines if the species 2 plant was a parasite of the species 1 plant. Justify each of your predictions.

Living and dead organisms continuously shed DNA fragments, known as eDNA, into the environment. To detect eDNA fragments in the environment, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) can be used to amplify specific eDNA fragments. eDNA fragments of different lengths persist in the environment for varying amounts of time before becoming undetectable (Figure 1). To investigate whether silver carp, an invasive fish, have moved from a nearby river system into Lake Michigan, researchers tested water samples for the presence of eDNA specific to silver carp (Figure 2).

Justify the use of eDNA sampling as an appropriate technique for detecting the presence of silver carp in an environment where many different species of fish are found. Propose ONE advantage of identifying long eDNA fragments as opposed to short fragments for detecting silver carp.

The researchers tested a large number of water samples from Lake Michigan and found eDNA specific to silver carp in a single sample in the lake, as indicated in Figure 2. The researchers concluded that the single positive sample was a false positive and that no silver carp had entered Lake Michigan. Provide reasoning other than human error to support the researchers’ claim.

In a certain species of plant, the diploid number of chromosomes is 4 (2n = 4). Flower color is controlled by a single gene in which the green allele ( G ) is dominant to the purple allele ( g ). Plant height is controlled by a different gene in which the dwarf allele ( D ) is dominant to the tall allele ( d ). Individuals of the parental ( P ) generation with the genotypes GGDD and ggdd were crossed to produce F1 progeny.

Construct a diagram below to depict the four possible normal products of meiosis that would be produced by the F1 progeny. Show the chromosomes and the allele(s) they carry. Assume the genes are located on different chromosomes and the gene for flower color is on chromosome 1.

Predict the possible phenotypes and their ratios in the offspring of a testcross between an F1 individual and a ggdd individual.

If the two genes were genetically linked, describe how the proportions of phenotypes of the resulting offspring would most likely differ from those of the testcross between an F1 individual and a ggdd individual.

Researchers conducted a study to investigate the effect of exercise on the release of prolactin into the blood. The researchers measured the concentration of prolactin in the blood of eight adult males before (T = 0 hour) and after one hour (T = 1 hour) of vigorous exercise. As a control, the researchers measured the concentration of blood prolactin in the same group of individuals at the same times of day one week later, but without having them exercise. The results are shown in Figure 1.

Justify the use of the without-exercise treatment as the control in the study design.

Using evidence from the specific treatments, determine whether prolactin release changes after exercise. Justify your answer.

👉 AP Bio 2015 FRQs

Gene Expression and Regulation, Ecology (Symbiosis, Genetic Expression)

Many species have circadian rhythms that exhibit an approximately 24-hour cycle. Circadian rhythms are controlled by both genetics and environmental conditions, including light. Researchers investigated the effect of light on mouse behavior by using a running wheel with a motion sensor to record activity on actograms, as shown in Figure 1. For the investigation, adult male mice were individually housed in cages in a soundproof room at 25°C. Each mouse was provided with adequate food, water, bedding material, and a running wheel. The mice were exposed to daily periods of 12 hours of light (L) and 12 hours of dark (D) (L12:D12) for 14 days, and their activity was continuously monitored. The activity data are shown in Figure 2. After 14 days in L12:D12, the mice were placed in continuous darkness (DD), and their activity on the running wheel was recorded as before. The activity data under DD conditions are shown in Figure 3.

The nervous system plays a role in coordinating the observed activity pattern of the mice in response to light-dark stimuli. Describe ONE role of each of the following anatomical structures in responding to lightdark stimuli.

A photoreceptor in the retina of the eye

A motor neuron

Based on an analysis of the data in Figure 2, describe the activity pattern of the mice during the light and dark periods of the L12:D12 cycle.

The researchers claim that the genetically controlled circadian rhythm in the mice does not follow a 24-hour cycle. Describe ONE difference between the daily pattern of activity under L12:D12 conditions (Figure 2) and under DD conditions (Figure 3), and use the data to support the researchers’ claim.

To investigate the claim that exposure to light overrides the genetically controlled circadian rhythm, the researchers plan to repeat the experiment with mutant mice lacking a gene that controls the circadian rhythm. Predict the observed activity pattern of the mutant mice under L12:D12 conditions and under DD conditions that would support the claim that light overrides the genetically controlled circadian rhythm.

In nature, mice are potential prey for some predatory birds that hunt during the day. Describe TWO features of a model that represents how the predator-prey relationship between the birds and the mice may have resulted in the evolution of the observed activity pattern of the mice.

Cellular Energetics (Cellular Respiration, ATP, Krebs Cycle, Glycolysis)

Cellular respiration includes the metabolic pathways of glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, and the electron transport chain, as represented in the figures. In cellular respiration, carbohydrates and other metabolites are oxidized, and the resulting energy-transfer reactions support the synthesis of ATP.

Using the information above, describe ONE contribution of each of the following in ATP synthesis.

Catabolism of glucose in glycolysis and pyruvate oxidation

Oxidation of intermediates in the Krebs cycle

Formation of a proton gradient by the electron transport chain

Use each of the following observations to justify the claim that glycolysis first occurred in a common ancestor of all living organisms.

Nearly all existing organisms perform glycolysis.

Glycolysis occurs under anaerobic conditions.

Glycolysis occurs only in the cytosol.

A researcher estimates that, in a certain organism, the complete metabolism of glucose produces 30 molecules of ATP for each molecule of glucose. The energy released from the total oxidation of glucose under standard conditions is 686 kcal/mol. The energy released from the hydrolysis of ATP to ADP and inorganic phosphate under standard conditions is 7.3 kcal/mol. Calculate the amount of energy available from the hydrolysis of 30 moles of ATP. Calculate the efficiency of total ATP production from 1 mole of glucose in the organism. Describe what happens to the excess energy that is released from the metabolism of glucose.

The enzymes of the Krebs cycle function in the cytosol of bacteria, but among eukaryotes the enzymes function mostly in the mitochondria. Pose a scientific question that connects the subcellular location of the enzymes in the Krebs cycle to the evolution of eukaryotes.

Natural Selection, Chemical Structure of Life (Amino Acids, Phylogenic Tree)

The amino acid sequence of cytochrome c was determined for five different species of vertebrates. The table below shows the number of differences in the sequences between each pair of species.

Using the data in the table, create a phylogenetic tree on the template provided to reflect the evolutionary relationships of the organisms. Provide reasoning for the placement on the tree of the species that is least related to the others.

Identify whether morphological data or amino acid sequence data are more likely to accurately represent the true evolutionary relationships among the species, and provide reasoning for your answer.

Cell Communication and Cell Cycle (Mitosis, Meiosis)

Both mitosis and meiosis are forms of cell division that produce daughter cells containing genetic information from the parent cell.

Describe TWO events that are common to both mitosis and meiosis that ensure the resulting daughter cells inherit the appropriate number of chromosomes.

The genetic composition of daughter cells produced by mitosis differs from that of the daughter cells produced by meiosis. Describe TWO features of the cell division processes that lead to these differences.

Cellular Energetics (Photosynthesis)

Phototropism in plants is a response in which a plant shoot grows toward a light source. The results of five different experimental treatments from classic investigations of phototropism are shown above.

Give support for the claim that the cells located in the tip of the plant shoot detect the light by comparing the results from treatment group I with the results from treatment group II and treatment group III.

In treatment groups IV and V, the tips of the plants are removed and placed back onto the shoot on either a permeable or impermeable barrier. Using the results from treatment groups IV and V, describe TWO additional characteristics of the phototropism response.

Ecology (Population Dynamics)

In an attempt to rescue a small isolated population of snakes from decline, a few male snakes from several larger populations of the same species were introduced into the population in 1992. The snakes reproduce sexually, and there are abundant resources in the environment. The figure below shows the results of a study of the snake population both before and after the introduction of the outside males. In the study, the numbers of captured snakes indicate the overall population size.

Describe ONE characteristic of the original population that may have led to the population’s decline in size between 1989 and 1993.

Propose ONE reason that the introduction of the outside males rescued the snake population from decline.

Describe how the data support the statement that there are abundant resources in the environment.

Cell Communication and Cell Cycle (Cell signaling, transmissions)

Smell perception in mammals involves the interactions of airborne odorant molecules from the environment with receptor proteins on the olfactory neurons in the nasal cavity. The binding of odorant molecules to the receptor proteins triggers action potentials in the olfactory neurons and results in transmission of information to the brain. Mammalian genomes typically have approximately 1,000 functional odorant-receptor genes, each encoding a unique odorant receptor.

Describe how the signal is transmitted across the synapse from an activated olfactory sensory neuron to the interneuron that transmits the information to the brain.

Explain how the expression of a limited number of odorant receptor genes can lead to the perception of thousands of odors. Use the evidence about the number of odorant receptor genes to support your answer

Cell Communication and Cell Cycle (Cell Communication, Immune System)

An individual has lost the ability to activate B cells and mount a humoral immune response.

Propose ONE direct consequence of the loss of B-cell activity on the individual’s humoral immune response to the initial exposure to a bacterial pathogen.

Propose ONE direct consequence of the loss of B-cell activity on the speed of the individual’s humoral immune response to a second exposure to the bacterial pathogen.

Describe ONE characteristic of the individual’s immune response to the bacterial pathogen that is not affected by the loss of B cells.


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Excel at Science

  • Feb 16, 2021

AP Biology Past FRQs by Topic

Updated: Jan 31

ap bio frq immune response

**Updated on 1/31/24 to include the 2022-23 FRQ exams!**

If you are looking for past AP Biology free-response questions (FRQs) that are organized by topic, then you have come to the right place. In this post, we have linked every freely available past FRQ there is from College Board and organized it into the following major topics of AP Biology .

(Please note that we are not associated with College Board and are simply sharing the resources they have made available to students.)


Metabolism & energetics.

Physiology (note that this topic will not be tested on the official AP Biology exam this year in 2021, although many questions about physiology could also cover concepts that will be tested)

Experiment design & data analysis

Need more AP-style practice problems?

Intensively doing and reviewing practice questions is proven to be much more effective than spending hours studying. Check out our AP Bio Practice Portal , which is an easy-to-use database of 300+ AP-style MCQ and FRQ practice questions. Students love the Practice Portal because it includes answers and explanations for every problem, tracks progress, and saves time from Googling practice problems.

Try the Practice Portal >

How to make the most of past frqs from college board.

As noted above, the diversity of organisms, plants, and physiology will not be on the 2021 AP Biology exam. However, the exam could include questions about topics or hypothetical situations that are related to those topics. One great example is cell communication, which is used in multiple systems inside our bodies. Let’s say an FRQ was to appear about the immune system and how the immune cells communicate. That would be fair game as long as the question focuses on the cell signaling part, not the details of the immune system. If the question requires some background knowledge about the immune system, it will be provided.

If you want to do a whole practice FRQ set just like the ones on the real exam (which we highly recommend), all the freely available past FRQs by year are available here on the College Board website. Tip: time yourself and take the practice FRQ set in an environment that mimics how you imagine your actual testing environment to be.

If you would like to focus on a particular topic, then the section coming up is for you. Some FRQs will show up under multiple topics because they truly do test students’ understanding of multiple different topics.

Tip : Whether you are doing individual free-response questions or doing a full problem set in one go, it is extremely important and effective to do test corrections! Don’t only consult the scoring guidelines and model responses when you have no clue how to answer a question. You should be checking them for all the FRQs you do. When you find a difference between your answer and the scoring guidelines, it is important that you pause and analyze why your response is incorrect. Take the time to understand your mistakes and see how your answer could have been better. This will help you boost your scores the most efficiently.


Below are the linked FRQs organized by topic. The header for each topic will also lead you to the corresponding study guide that will help you review the unit in detail!

Basic and organic chemistry concepts do not come up often on the FRQs (but of course, it’s better to be prepared). The properties of water and macromolecules come up occasionally.

2017 #7 and 8

Includes cell structure and function, cell transport and the proteins involved.

2019 #3 and 8

2018 #2, 6, and 8

2006 #1, 3, and 4

2001 #1 and 4

(study guide coming soon!)

This unit includes enzymes, cellular respiration, and photosynthesis.

2023 #2 (cell respiration & photosynthesis)

2023 #4 (photosynthesis)

2022 #3 (enzymes)

2021 #3 (cell respiration)

2019 #3 (cell respiration)

2018 #2 (cell respiration)

2017 #7 (cell respiration)

2017 #5 (photosynthesis)

2015 #2 (cell respiration)

2013 #2 (photosynthesis) and 4 (cell respiration & photosynthesis)

2012 #2 (cell respiration) and 4 (cell respiration & photosynthesis)

2010 #2 (enzymes)

2007 #3 (photosynthesis)

2006 #4 (photosynthesis)

2005 #1 (cell respiration & photosynthesis)

2004 #3 (photosynthesis)

Cell cycle & cell signaling

This topic has shown up more frequently and in more difficult FRQs in recent years, especially cell communication. The trend will most likely continue so definitely prioritize reviewing and practicing this topic!

2023 #1 (cell communication)

2022 #1 (cell communication)

2022 #2 (cell cycle, meiosis)

2021 #1 (cell communication)

2019 #4 (cell communication)

2018 #8 (cell communication)

2017 #8 (cell communication)

2016 # 7 (cell division)

2015 # 4 (cell division)

2015 #5 and 7 (cell communication)

2013 #8 (cell communication)

2011 #1B (cell division)

2010 #1 (cell communication)

2006 #1B (cell division)

2004 #1 (cell division)

Genetics, Gene Expression and Regulation

Genetics Pt 1 and Genetics Pt 2 Study Guides

This section includes the classic Mendelian genetics, with Punnett squares, crosses, and Mendel’s laws. It also includes DNA replication, protein synthesis, and gene expression regulation for both eukaryotes and prokaryotes.

2023 #6 (gene expression)

2022 #6 (protein synthesis, gene expression)

2021 #6 (gene expression)

2021 #2 (heredity + pedigrees)

2020 #1 parts a-b

2019 #1 and 3

2018 #1, 4, and 7

2016 #4 and 7

2023 #5 (Cladistics)

2022 #4 (speciation)

2020 #1 parts f-j

2015 #3 and 6

2014 #2 and 4

2015 #2 (nervous system)

2014 #2 (immune system) and 6 (musculoskeletal system) and 7

2017 #2, 4, and 7b

2016 #3 and 5

2014 #3 and 4

Experimental design & analysis

This is an additional section that isn’t focused on any particular topic or has significant data analysis involved. While most FRQs do pertain to a specific topic(s), some are simply there to test your knowledge of experimental design and understanding of statistical concepts such as performing Chi-Square tests and interpreting error bars on graphs. These types of questions have become more and more common on the AP exam, so it is important to feel comfortable and confident with them.

2023 #6 (data analysis)

2022 #3 (experiment design)

2020 #1 parts c-e

2016 #2 , 6 and 8

2014 #1 and 5

2013 #1 and 7

Hope these organized FRQs saved you some time so you can focus more on actually doing them and practicing! You can easily share this post with friends who may find it helpful as well.

How to Improve AP Biology FRQ Scores, Fast

Do a lot of FRQ practice problems and review the answers! Practice is key, especially for a subject as dense as AP Bio. Check out the AP Bio Practice Portal , which is our popular vault of 300+ AP-style MCQ and FRQ problem sets with answers and explanations for every question. Don't waste any more time Googling practice problems or answers - try it out now!

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Content items for courses

Course: content items for courses   >   unit 3.

  • 1a-c, Responses to the environment
  • 1d-e, Responses to the environment & natural selection
  • 2a-b, Cellular respiration & common ancestry
  • 2c-d, Cellular respiration & cell compartmentalization and its origins
  • 3a-b, Phylogeny
  • 4a-b, Meiosis and genetic diversity
  • 5a-b, Responses to the environment
  • 6a-c, Population ecology
  • 2015 AP Biology free response 7

2015 AP Biology free response 8

Want to join the conversation, video transcript.

33.2 Adaptive Immune Response

Learning objectives.

In this section, you will explore the following questions:

  • What is adaptive immunity?
  • What is the difference between adaptive and innate immunity?
  • What are the cell-mediated immune response and the humoral immune response?
  • What is immune tolerance?

Connection for AP ® Courses

Adaptive immune response takes days or even weeks to become established—much longer than the innate response—and is more specific to pathogens and involves molecular memory. This type of immunity occurs after we’ve been exposed to an antigen either from a pathogen or through vaccination and is activated when the innate immune response is insufficient to control the infection. There are two types of adaptive responses: cell-mediated immune response , carried out by T cells, and the humoral immune response , controlled by activated B cells and their production of antibodies. Adaptive immunity involves memory so that re-exposure to the same pathogen will elicit an efficient and quick response. This gives long-term protection from reinfection.

The information in this section will seem overwhelmingly complex with its discussion of antigens, antigen-presenting cells, major histocompatibility (MHC) molecules, different types of T cells, antibody-secreting B cells, and the programming of memory cells. One suggestion is to read the information slowly, study the figures and their captions carefully, and make your own series of diagrams. Despite the difficulty of the information, many concepts will seem familiar, such as the role of proteins embedded in plasma cell membranes and interactions among different types of cells and molecules.

Information presented and the examples highlighted in the section support concepts outlined in Big Idea 2 and Big Idea 3 of the AP ® Biology Curriculum Framework. The AP ® Learning Objectives listed in the Curriculum Framework provide a transparent foundation for the AP ® Biology course, an inquiry-based laboratory experience, instructional activities, and AP ® exam questions. A learning objective merges required content with one or more of the seven science practices.

Antigen-presenting Cells

Unlike NK cells of the innate immune system, B cells (B lymphocytes) are a type of white blood cell that gives rise to antibodies, whereas T cells (T lymphocytes) are a type of white blood cell that plays an important role in the immune response. T cells are a key component in the cell-mediated response—the specific immune response that utilizes T cells to neutralize cells that have been infected with viruses and certain bacteria. There are three types of T cells: cytotoxic, helper, and suppressor T cells. Cytotoxic T cells destroy virus-infected cells in the cell-mediated immune response, and helper T cells play a part in activating both the antibody and the cell-mediated immune responses. Suppressor T cells deactivate T cells and B cells when needed, and thus prevent the immune response from becoming too intense.

An antigen is a foreign or “non-self” macromolecule that reacts with cells of the immune system. Not all antigens will provoke a response. For instance, individuals produce innumerable “self” antigens and are constantly exposed to harmless foreign antigens, such as food proteins, pollen, or dust components. The suppression of immune responses to harmless macromolecules is highly regulated and typically prevents processes that could be damaging to the host, known as tolerance.

The innate immune system contains cells that detect potentially harmful antigens, and then inform the adaptive immune response about the presence of these antigens. An antigen-presenting cell (APC) is an immune cell that detects, engulfs, and informs the adaptive immune response about an infection. When a pathogen is detected, these APCs will phagocytose the pathogen and digest it to form many different fragments of the antigen. Antigen fragments will then be transported to the surface of the APC, where they will serve as an indicator to other immune cells. Dendritic cells are immune cells that process antigen material; they are present in the skin (Langerhans cells) and the lining of the nose, lungs, stomach, and intestines. Sometimes a dendritic cell presents on the surface of other cells to induce an immune response, thus functioning as an antigen-presenting cell. Macrophages also function as APCs. Before activation and differentiation, B cells can also function as APCs.

After phagocytosis by APCs, the phagocytic vesicle fuses with an intracellular lysosome forming phagolysosome. Within the phagolysosome, the components are broken down into fragments; the fragments are then loaded onto MHC class I or MHC class II molecules and are transported to the cell surface for antigen presentation, as illustrated in Figure 33.8 . Note that T lymphocytes cannot properly respond to the antigen unless it is processed and embedded in an MHC II molecule. APCs express MHC on their surfaces, and when combined with a foreign antigen, these complexes signal a “non-self” invader. Once the fragment of antigen is embedded in the MHC II molecule, the immune cell can respond. Helper T- cells are one of the main lymphocytes that respond to antigen-presenting cells. Recall that all other nucleated cells of the body expressed MHC I molecules, which signal “healthy” or “normal.”

Link to Learning

This animation from Rockefeller University shows how dendritic cells act as sentinels in the body's immune system.

  • Dendritic cells directly kill infected cells and emit cytokines, which amplify the immune response.
  • Dendritic cells recognize foreign proteins and prepare them to be displayed to immune cells in the lymph. This activates an immune response.
  • Dendritic cells identify tumor cells or cells infected with viruses and destroy them.
  • Dendritic cells act as phagocytes. They engulf and digest pathogens.

T and B Lymphocytes

Lymphocytes in human circulating blood are approximately 80 to 90 percent T cells, shown in Figure 33.9 , and 10 to 20 percent B cells. Recall that the T cells are involved in the cell-mediated immune response, whereas B cells are part of the humoral immune response.

T cells encompass a heterogeneous population of cells with extremely diverse functions. Some T cells respond to APCs of the innate immune system, and indirectly induce immune responses by releasing cytokines. Other T cells stimulate B cells to prepare their own response. Another population of T cells detects APC signals and directly kills the infected cells. Other T cells are involved in suppressing inappropriate immune reactions to harmless or “self” antigens.

T and B cells exhibit a common theme of recognition/binding of specific antigens via a complementary receptor, followed by activation and self-amplification/maturation to specifically bind to the particular antigen of the infecting pathogen. T and B lymphocytes are also similar in that each cell only expresses one type of antigen receptor. Any individual may possess a population of T and B cells that together express a near limitless variety of antigen receptors that are capable of recognizing virtually any infecting pathogen. T and B cells are activated when they recognize small components of antigens, called epitopes , presented by APCs, illustrated in Figure 33.10 . Note that recognition occurs at a specific epitope rather than on the entire antigen; for this reason, epitopes are known as “antigenic determinants.” In the absence of information from APCs, T and B cells remain inactive, or naïve, and are unable to prepare an immune response. The requirement for information from the APCs of innate immunity to trigger B cell or T cell activation illustrates the essential nature of the innate immune response to the functioning of the entire immune system.

Naïve T cells can express one of two different molecules, CD4 or CD8, on their surface, as shown in Figure 33.11 , and are accordingly classified as CD4 + or CD8 + cells. These molecules are important because they regulate how a T cell will interact with and respond to an APC. Naïve CD4 + cells bind APCs via their antigen-embedded MHC II molecules and are stimulated to become helper T (T H ) lymphocytes , cells that go on to stimulate B cells (or cytotoxic T cells) directly or secrete cytokines to inform more and various target cells about the pathogenic threat. In contrast, CD8 + cells engage antigen-embedded MHC I molecules on APCs and are stimulated to become cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) , which directly kill infected cells by apoptosis and emit cytokines to amplify the immune response. The two populations of T cells have different mechanisms of immune protection, but both bind MHC molecules via their antigen receptors called T cell receptors (TCRs). The CD4 or CD8 surface molecules differentiate whether the TCR will engage an MHC II or an MHC I molecule. Because they assist in binding specificity, the CD4 and CD8 molecules are described as coreceptors.

Visual Connection

  • The T cell receptor is found on both CD4+ and CD8+T cells.
  • Helper T cells are CD4+, while cytotoxic T cells are CD8+.
  • Helper T cells release cytokines, while cytotoxic T cells kill the infected cell.
  • MHC II is a receptor found on most body cells, while MHC I is a receptor found only on immune cells.

Consider the innumerable possible antigens that an individual will be exposed to during a lifetime. The mammalian adaptive immune system is adept in responding appropriately to each antigen. Mammals have an enormous diversity of T cell populations, resulting from the diversity of TCRs. Each TCR consists of two polypeptide chains that span the T cell membrane, as illustrated in Figure 33.12 ; the chains are linked by a disulfide bridge. Each polypeptide chain is comprised of a constant domain and a variable domain: a domain, in this sense, is a specific region of a protein that may be regulatory or structural. The intracellular domain is involved in intracellular signaling. A single T cell will express thousands of identical copies of one specific TCR variant on its cell surface. The specificity of the adaptive immune system occurs because it synthesizes millions of different T cell populations, each expressing a TCR that differs in its variable domain. This TCR diversity is achieved by the mutation and recombination of genes that encode these receptors in stem cell precursors of T cells. The binding between an antigen-displaying MHC molecule and a complementary TCR “match” indicates that the adaptive immune system needs to activate and produce that specific T cell because its structure is appropriate to recognize and destroy the invading pathogen.

Helper T Lymphocytes

The T H lymphocytes function indirectly to identify potential pathogens for other cells of the immune system. These cells are important for extracellular infections, such as those caused by certain bacteria, helminths, and protozoa. T H lymphocytes recognize specific antigens displayed in the MHC II complexes of APCs. There are two major populations of T H cells: T H 1 and T H 2. T H 1 cells secrete cytokines to enhance the activities of macrophages and other T cells. T H 1 cells activate the action of cytotoxic T cells, as well as macrophages. T H 2 cells stimulate naïve B cells to destroy foreign invaders via antibody secretion. Whether a T H 1 or a T H 2 immune response develops depends on the specific types of cytokines secreted by cells of the innate immune system, which in turn depends on the nature of the invading pathogen.

The T H 1-mediated response involves macrophages and is associated with inflammation. Recall the frontline defenses of macrophages involved in the innate immune response. Some intracellular bacteria, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis , have evolved to multiply in macrophages after they have been engulfed. These pathogens evade attempts by macrophages to destroy and digest the pathogen. When M. tuberculosis infection occurs, macrophages can stimulate naïve T cells to become T H 1 cells. These stimulated T cells secrete specific cytokines that send feedback to the macrophage to stimulate its digestive capabilities and allow it to destroy the colonizing M. tuberculosis . In the same manner, T H 1-activated macrophages also become better suited to ingest and kill tumor cells. In summary; T H 1 responses are directed toward intracellular invaders while T H 2 responses are aimed at those that are extracellular.

B Lymphocytes

When stimulated by the T H 2 pathway, naïve B cells differentiate into antibody-secreting plasma cells. A plasma cell is an immune cell that secrets antibodies; these cells arise from B cells that were stimulated by antigens. Similar to T cells, naïve B cells initially are coated in thousands of B cell receptors (BCRs), which are membrane-bound forms of Ig (immunoglobulin, or an antibody). The B cell receptor has two heavy chains and two light chains connected by disulfide linkages. Each chain has a constant and a variable region; the latter is involved in antigen binding. Two other membrane proteins, Ig alpha and Ig beta, are involved in signaling. The receptors of any particular B cell, as shown in Figure 33.13 are all the same, but the hundreds of millions of different B cells in an individual have distinct recognition domains that contribute to extensive diversity in the types of molecular structures to which they can bind. In this state, B cells function as APCs. They bind and engulf foreign antigens via their BCRs and then display processed antigens in the context of MHC II molecules to T H 2 cells. When a T H 2 cell detects that a B cell is bound to a relevant antigen, it secretes specific cytokines that induce the B cell to proliferate rapidly, which makes thousands of identical (clonal) copies of it, and then it synthesizes and secretes antibodies with the same antigen recognition pattern as the BCRs. The activation of B cells corresponding to one specific BCR variant and the dramatic proliferation of that variant is known as clonal selection . This phenomenon drastically, but briefly, changes the proportions of BCR variants expressed by the immune system, and shifts the balance toward BCRs specific to the infecting pathogen.

T and B cells differ in one fundamental way: whereas T cells bind antigens that have been digested and embedded in MHC molecules by APCs, B cells function as APCs that bind intact antigens that have not been processed. Although T and B cells both react with molecules that are termed “antigens,” these lymphocytes actually respond to very different types of molecules. B cells must be able to bind intact antigens because they secrete antibodies that must recognize the pathogen directly, rather than digested remnants of the pathogen. Bacterial carbohydrate and lipid molecules can activate B cells independently from the T cells.

Cytotoxic T Lymphocytes

CTLs, a subclass of T cells, function to clear infections directly. The cell-mediated part of the adaptive immune system consists of CTLs that attack and destroy infected cells. CTLs are particularly important in protecting against viral infections; this is because viruses replicate within cells where they are shielded from extracellular contact with circulating antibodies. When APCs phagocytize pathogens and present MHC I-embedded antigens to naïve CD8 + T cells that express complementary TCRs, the CD8 + T cells become activated to proliferate according to clonal selection. These resulting CTLs then identify non-APCs displaying the same MHC I-embedded antigens (for example, viral proteins)—for example, the CTLs identify infected host cells.

Intracellularly, infected cells typically die after the infecting pathogen replicates to a sufficient concentration and lyses the cell, as many viruses do. CTLs attempt to identify and destroy infected cells before the pathogen can replicate and escape, thereby halting the progression of intracellular infections. CTLs also support NK lymphocytes to destroy early cancers. Cytokines secreted by the T H 1 response that stimulates macrophages also stimulate CTLs and enhance their ability to identify and destroy infected cells and tumors.

CTLs sense MHC I-embedded antigens by directly interacting with infected cells via their TCRs. Binding of TCRs with antigens activates CTLs to release perforin and granzyme, degradative enzymes that will induce apoptosis of the infected cell. Recall that this is a similar destruction mechanism to that used by NK cells. In this process, the CTL does not become infected and is not harmed by the secretion of perforin and granzymes. In fact, the functions of NK cells and CTLs are complementary and maximize the removal of infected cells, as illustrated in Figure 33.14 . If the NK cell cannot identify the “missing self” pattern of down-regulated MHC I molecules, then the CTL can identify it by the complex of MHC I with foreign antigens, which signals “altered self.” Similarly, if the CTL cannot detect antigen-embedded MHC I because the receptors are depleted from the cell surface, NK cells will destroy the cell instead. CTLs also emit cytokines, such as interferons, that alter surface protein expression in other infected cells, such that the infected cells can be easily identified and destroyed. Moreover, these interferons can also prevent virally infected cells from releasing virus particles.

  • The natural killer cells of the recipient will recognize the MHC II proteins present on the cell surface of incompatible organ as foreign and activate macrophages, which will phagocytose foreign cells. The attack will cause the organ to be rejected.
  • Neutrophils will recognize the proteins on incompatible organ as foreign and will phagocytose the foreign cells of the incompatible organ.
  • The natural killer cells of the recipient will recognize the MHC II proteins present on the cell surface of incompatible organ as foreign and will attack these foreign proteins. The attack will cause the organ to be rejected.
  • The recipient’s immune system will recognize the proteins on the incompatible organ as foreign and will attack these foreign proteins. The attack will cause the organ to be rejected.

Plasma cells and CTLs are collectively called effector cells : they represent differentiated versions of their naïve counterparts, and they are involved in bringing about the immune defense of killing pathogens and infected host cells.

Mucosal Surfaces and Immune Tolerance

The innate and adaptive immune responses discussed thus far comprise the systemic immune system (affecting the whole body), which is distinct from the mucosal immune system. Mucosal immunity is formed by mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue, which functions independently of the systemic immune system, and which has its own innate and adaptive components. Mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) , illustrated in Figure 33.15 , is a collection of lymphatic tissue that combines with epithelial tissue lining the mucosa throughout the body. This tissue functions as the immune barrier and response in areas of the body with direct contact to the external environment. The systemic and mucosal immune systems use many of the same cell types. Foreign particles that make their way to MALT are taken up by absorptive epithelial cells called M cells and delivered to APCs located directly below the mucosal tissue. M cells function in the transport described, and are located in the Peyer’s patch, a lymphoid nodule. APCs of the mucosal immune system are primarily dendritic cells, with B cells and macrophages having minor roles. Processed antigens displayed on APCs are detected by T cells in the MALT and at various mucosal induction sites, such as the tonsils, adenoids, appendix, or the mesenteric lymph nodes of the intestine. Activated T cells then migrate through the lymphatic system and into the circulatory system to mucosal sites of infection.

MALT is a crucial component of a functional immune system because mucosal surfaces, such as the nasal passages, are the first tissues onto which inhaled or ingested pathogens are deposited. The mucosal tissue includes the mouth, pharynx, and esophagus, and the gastrointestinal, respiratory, and urogenital tracts.

The immune system has to be regulated to prevent wasteful, unnecessary responses to harmless substances, and more importantly so that it does not attack “self.” The acquired ability to prevent an unnecessary or harmful immune response to a detected foreign substance known not to cause disease is described as immune tolerance . Immune tolerance is crucial for maintaining mucosal homeostasis given the tremendous number of foreign substances (such as food proteins) that APCs of the oral cavity, pharynx, and gastrointestinal mucosa encounter. Immune tolerance is brought about by specialized APCs in the liver, lymph nodes, small intestine, and lung that present harmless antigens to an exceptionally diverse population of regulatory T (T reg ) cells , specialized lymphocytes that suppress local inflammation and inhibit the secretion of stimulatory immune factors. The combined result of T reg cells is to prevent immunologic activation and inflammation in undesired tissue compartments and to allow the immune system to focus on pathogens instead. In addition to promoting immune tolerance of harmless antigens, other subsets of T reg cells are involved in the prevention of the autoimmune response , which is an inappropriate immune response to host cells or self-antigens. Another T reg class suppresses immune responses to harmful pathogens after the infection has cleared to minimize host cell damage induced by inflammation and cell lysis.

Immunological Memory

The adaptive immune system possesses a memory component that allows for an efficient and dramatic response upon reinvasion of the same pathogen. Memory is handled by the adaptive immune system with little reliance on cues from the innate response. During the adaptive immune response to a pathogen that has not been encountered before, called a primary response, plasma cells secreting antibodies and differentiated T cells increase, then plateau over time. As B and T cells mature into effector cells, a subset of the naïve populations differentiates into B and T memory cells with the same antigen specificities, as illustrated in Figure 33.16 .

A memory cell is an antigen-specific B or T lymphocyte that does not differentiate into effector cells during the primary immune response, but that can immediately become effector cells upon re-exposure to the same pathogen. During the primary immune response, memory cells do not respond to antigens and do not contribute to host defenses. As the infection is cleared and pathogenic stimuli subside, the effectors are no longer needed, and they undergo apoptosis. In contrast, the memory cells persist in the circulation.

This graph shows the concentration of a specific antibody after an immunization shot. The horizontal line at each day shows the average value measured for that day. Ignore the 5m value at the start.

Make a claim based on this graph.

  • Antibody production started right after immunization shot and increased in the thirty days following it.
  • Antibody production was highest on the day of the shot and gradually decreased in the thirty days following it.
  • Antibody production was constant for the thirty days following the shot.
  • Antibody production peaked eight days after the shot and then gradually decreased.

If the pathogen is never encountered again during the individual’s lifetime, B and T memory cells will circulate for a few years or even several decades and will gradually die off, having never functioned as effector cells. However, if the host is re-exposed to the same pathogen type, circulating memory cells will immediately differentiate into plasma cells and CTLs without input from APCs or T H cells. One reason the adaptive immune response is delayed is because it takes time for naïve B and T cells with the appropriate antigen specificities to be identified and activated. Upon reinfection, this step is skipped, and the result is a more rapid production of immune defenses. Memory B cells that differentiate into plasma cells output tens to hundreds-fold greater antibody amounts than were secreted during the primary response, as the graph in Figure 33.17 illustrates. This rapid and dramatic antibody response may stop the infection before it can even become established, and the individual may not realize they had been exposed.

Vaccination is based on the knowledge that exposure to noninfectious antigens, derived from known pathogens, generates a mild primary immune response. The immune response to vaccination may not be perceived by the host as illness but still confers immune memory. When exposed to the corresponding pathogen to which an individual was vaccinated, the reaction is similar to a secondary exposure. Because each reinfection generates more memory cells and increased resistance to the pathogen, and because some memory cells die, certain vaccine courses involve one or more booster vaccinations to mimic repeat exposures: for instance, tetanus boosters are necessary every ten years because the memory cells only live that long.

Mucosal Immune Memory

A subset of T and B cells of the mucosal immune system differentiates into memory cells just as in the systemic immune system. Upon reinvasion of the same pathogen type, a pronounced immune response occurs at the mucosal site where the original pathogen deposited, but a collective defense is also organized within interconnected or adjacent mucosal tissue. For instance, the immune memory of an infection in the oral cavity would also elicit a response in the pharynx if the oral cavity was exposed to the same pathogen.

Career Connection


Vaccination (or immunization) involves the delivery, usually by injection as shown in Figure 33.18 , of noninfectious antigen(s) derived from known pathogens. Other components, called adjuvants, are delivered in parallel to help stimulate the immune response. Immunological memory is the reason vaccines work. Ideally, the effect of vaccination is to elicit immunological memory, and thus resistance to specific pathogens without the individual having to experience an infection.

Vaccinologists are involved in the process of vaccine development from the initial idea to the availability of the completed vaccine. This process can take decades, can cost millions of dollars, and can involve many obstacles along the way. For instance, injected vaccines stimulate the systemic immune system, eliciting humoral and cell-mediated immunity, but have little effect on the mucosal response, which presents a challenge because many pathogens are deposited and replicate in mucosal compartments, and the injection does not provide the most efficient immune memory for these disease agents. For this reason, vaccinologists are actively involved in developing new vaccines that are applied via intranasal, aerosol, oral, or transcutaneous (absorbed through the skin) delivery methods. Importantly, mucosal-administered vaccines elicit both mucosal and systemic immunity and produce the same level of disease resistance as injected vaccines.

Currently, a version of intranasal influenza vaccine is available, and the polio and typhoid vaccines can be administered orally, as shown in Figure 33.19 . Similarly, the measles and rubella vaccines are being adapted to aerosol delivery using inhalation devices. Eventually, transgenic plants may be engineered to produce vaccine antigens that can be eaten to confer disease resistance. Other vaccines may be adapted to rectal or vaginal application to elicit immune responses in rectal, genitourinary, or reproductive mucosa. Finally, vaccine antigens may be adapted to transdermal application in which the skin is lightly scraped and microneedles are used to pierce the outermost layer. In addition to mobilizing the mucosal immune response, this new generation of vaccines may end the anxiety associated with injections and, in turn, improve patient participation.

Science Practice Connection for AP® Courses

Construct a diagram to illustrate how T cells and B cells differ from each other with respect to the antigens that they bind.

Think About It

Why is it advantageous to be able to mount a faster immune response upon re-exposure to the same pathogen? How does the immune system accomplish this response?

Teacher Support

  • The activity is an application of AP ® Learning Objective 2.29 and Science Practices 1.1 and 1.2 because students are creating a representation or model to describe the differences between cell-mediated immune response and humoral response based on cell types and their functions. This will help them identify the difference between the systems.
  • The Think About It question is an application of AP ® Learning Objective 3.34 and Science Practice 6.2 because students are explaining how cells of the immune system detect and response to external signals such as antigens. The surfaces of microorganisms typically bear repeating patterns of molecular structure (PMS) that can be recognized by phagocytic cells.

Primary Centers of the Immune System

Although the immune system is characterized by circulating cells throughout the body, the regulation, maturation, and intercommunication of immune factors occur at specific sites. The blood circulates immune cells, proteins, and other factors through the body. Approximately 0.1 percent of all cells in the blood are leukocytes, which encompass monocytes (the precursor of macrophages) and lymphocytes. The majority of cells in the blood are erythrocytes (red blood cells). Lymph is a watery fluid that bathes tissues and organs with protective white blood cells and does not contain erythrocytes. Cells of the immune system can travel between the distinct lymphatic and blood circulatory systems, which are separated by interstitial space, by a process called extravasation (passing through to surrounding tissue).

The cells of the immune system originate from hematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow. Cytokines stimulate these stem cells to differentiate into immune cells. B cell maturation occurs in the bone marrow, whereas naïve T cells transit from the bone marrow to the thymus for maturation. In the thymus, immature T cells that express TCRs complementary to self-antigens are destroyed. This process helps prevent autoimmune responses.

On maturation, T and B lymphocytes circulate to various destinations. Lymph nodes scattered throughout the body, as illustrated in Figure 33.20 , house large populations of T and B cells, dendritic cells, and macrophages. Lymph gathers antigens as it drains from tissues. These antigens then are filtered through lymph nodes before the lymph is returned to circulation. APCs in the lymph nodes capture and process antigens and inform nearby lymphocytes about potential pathogens.

The spleen houses B and T cells, macrophages, dendritic cells, and NK cells. The spleen, shown in Figure 33.21 , is the site where APCs that have trapped foreign particles in the blood can communicate with lymphocytes. Antibodies are synthesized and secreted by activated plasma cells in the spleen, and the spleen filters foreign substances and antibody-complexed pathogens from the blood. Functionally, the spleen is to the blood as lymph nodes are to the lymph.

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  • Authors: Julianne Zedalis, John Eggebrecht
  • Publisher/website: OpenStax
  • Book title: Biology for AP® Courses
  • Publication date: Mar 8, 2018
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AP® Biology

Immune system: ap® biology crash course review.

  • The Albert Team
  • Last Updated On: March 1, 2022

Immune System - AP® Biology Crash Course Review

What do you think of when you hear “immune system?” Maybe your body fighting a cold, maybe white blood cells? Your body’s immune system is there to protect you, both from inside and outer-body offenses. Animals must defend themselves against viruses, bacteria, and other types of intruders. Our cells have no walls, as we traded in mobility for susceptibility over the course of evolution. So our immune system is there to help keep us safe. Let’s take a closer look at the workings of the immune system as far as what you’ll want to know for the AP® Biology exam.

Attacks on the Immune System

Your body can be attacked from within, whether by mutated cells, or more often, viruses or bacteria. Viruses have been a topic for discussion over a long time as they are rather unique in both their structure and function. Viruses do not have cells. They need energy from their environment, as they can’t maintain an internal stable environment on their own. They are no considered to be alive, yet do take great strides to replicate themselves.

Viruses have a capsid (protein code) and inside this is DNA or RNA. Lysogenic virus DNA hides in your chromosomes and generally remains dormant. It does not automatically cause disease. Lytic viruses destroy the cell. To lyse something is essentially to cut it up, or destroy it. There is a lytic phase to many viruses in which they copy themselves and then destroy the host cell before moving on to other cells in the body. The flu is an example of this type of virus. It attached to a host cell, injects its DNA (or if it uses RNA, then it undergoes reverse transcription to have DNA available), and then the lytic cycle turns off the cell’s machinery and forces it to make proteins for the virus.

When a virus becomes part of the chromosomes, the virus DNA in there is called prophage. It’s dormant, and when the cells divide, the DNA from the virus also divides and is copied. Occasionally, there may be a stimulus that drives it out of the chromosome and into a lytic cycle. Most viruses are actually a bit of both, part lysogenic, part lytic. They may lean more heavily to one side, as in the flu virus, which exists mostly in a lytic phase. Viruses can generally only be prevented with vaccines, though bacteria can be cured with antibiotics.

General Immune Defenses

There are three general lines of defense the body has against invaders. The first lines of defense are physical barriers such as skin and mucus membranes. The second is non-specific, as well, but internal. This would include phagocytic white blood cells. The third and last line of defense is what’s typically referred to as the immune system. This includes lymphocytes and antibodies, more specific to definitive types of invaders.

The first line of defense includes epithelial cells and mucus membranes. This involves the skin, respiratory system, digestive tract, and genito-urinary tract. These are most exposed to the outside world. Sweat has an acidic pH and can help to prevent bacterial infections. Stomach acid also has a low pH. Tears, saliva, and mucus have antimicrobial properties, themselves, and can serve to trap potential invaders and neutralize them. Lysosomes within the saliva digest the cell walls of bacteria and destroy them.

The second line of defense is generally made of the white blood cells, which patrol the body looking for any type of foreign particles. They are phagocytic cells, which is to say they eat other cells. They also have microbial proteins and work with inflammatory responses. There are several types of white blood cells, and these are basophils, eosinophil, neutrophils monocytes, and lymphocytes. Monocytes and neutrophils are phagocytic and digest invaders with enzymes . Monocytes start as cells and become macrophages. Most white blood cells are neutrophils, which are rather short-lived cells, which neutralize invaders. Eosinophils fight parasites. Basophils are part of an inflammatory response and produce histamine.

Basophil produces histamine, which attract more white blood cells. This makes the blood vessels more leaky, which allows fluids to leave and enter more easily, which allow for the more efficient transport of white blood cells to a site. As they are also involved in inflammatory responses, the temperature in the area may go up then, and swelling will occur.

When a local response is not enough, a fever is a common reaction. This resets the body’s thermostat. The higher temperatures are helpful in that they can inhibit the growth of microbes, facilitate phagocytosis, and speed up the repair of tissues.

The lymph system produces leukocytes. Lymph fluid moves throughout the body by way of contractions of muscles and vessel with one-way valves. Lymph nodes are located in certain parts of the body and act as little police stations, all containing a large number of lymphocytes and macrophages.


The third line of defense is the lymphocytes, the B and T cells, which develop in the bone marrow. T cells mature in the thymus. They are attracted by chemical signals, the process of which is referred to as positive chemotaxis. In this way, lymphocytes are able to respond to specific toxins, microorganisms, abnormal body cells, and antigens (which in general, is just anything that elicits an immune response). Once the signal triggers a response from them, they move faster and look to destroy invaders. B cells produce antibodies to remember the chemical print of a foreign invader and allow for faster responses in the future. T cells facilitate the production of chemicals used by lymphocytes to kill off the foreign particles.

B cells recognize specific antigens, which each stimulate a unique antibody to be made. B cells are spurned to reproduce clone colonies, clone cells being either plasma cells or memory cells. Plasma cells facilitate the immediate production of antibodies, and release them in the short-term. Memory cells are for long-term immunity. They produce plasma cells to fight off invaders if they recognize the same foreign particle at a later date. These play a big role in vaccines.

Antigens are proteins that elicit a specific response by lymphocytes based on where they’re coming from. B cells recognize intact antigens, and T cells recognize antigen fragments.

Antibodies are proteins that bind to a specific antigen. If it’s designed to work against e. coli, for example, that is the only invader it works against. They are multi-chain proteins produced by B cells that “tag” invaders as being foreign so other cells can recognize them as invaders.

There are four main ways an antibody will work to rid the body of invaders. In neutralization, it would bind to a locking site on a virus so that it can’t take over a cell then. With agglutination, it causes invaders to clump up. The reason this helps is this: think of peas. Is it easier to get one pea off a plate to eat, or use a spoon to eat many at once? When bacteria are clumped up, and a white blood cell finds it, it eats up the entire clump. Precipitation is where antigens are connected together by antibodies and they become dense and separate out the bad parts from the rest of the blood. And in a complement reaction, antibodies bind to a foreign cell, and complement proteins form and encircle the invader, and a hole is put in the ring and the cell dies. Plasma cells are typically involved in this type of attack.

There are millions of types of B cells with all different receptors for all different antigens. An antigen binds with a B cell and then it’s triggered to make many, many copies of itself. Clones can become memory cells or plasma cells.

A first invasion usually takes about 10-17 days to mount an effective response. If it happens again, it is much faster. Memory cells stick around after a first attack and the antibody concentration becomes much higher far more quickly if the same invader comes back.

Immune System Vaccination

Vaccines work by giving partially destroyed viruses to the recipient so that memory cells can be created without actually harming the host. Vaccines are a form of active immunity. They stimulate the immune system to produce a response of its own. This is most effective against viral diseases.

Passive immunity comes from an outside source and is only short-term. A person receives antibodies only in this case. An example would be a mother making antibodies and passing them to her child by way of breast-feeding. If the child stops breast-feeding, it will no longer have those antibodies. Antivenom works in a similar way. Scientists inject rabbits with snake venom and the rabbits produce antibodies. The antibodies are separated, and now you have an antivenom. Those antibodies will lock up the proteins in venom and serve to neutralize them.

Another concern in immunity is recognizing self from non-self. MHC (major histocompatibility complex) tells the body what is a part of itself, and develops early in life. T cells use this in knowing what to go after.

There are helper T cells and cytotoxic T cells in the body. Helper T cells stimulate immune components while cytotoxic T cells kill off cells. If you have an invading bacterial infection, they would be taken up by a macrophage in response. Now the macrophage becomes APC (antigen present cells) and presents an antigen on the outside of the cell for MHC to recognize. Helper T cells are activated and then activate the cytotoxic T cells to destroy cells with that same antigen mark. Cytotoxic T cells bind to infected cells and produce a protein called perferin which perforates that alien cells to rip them apart.

Wrap-Up for the Immune System in AP® Biology

This has been a very complete description of the immune system including everything you need to know for the AP® Biology test. Remember all three lines of defenses and the different types of cells that play a role, including B and T cells.

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