Immune cells—macrophages and lymphocytes— carry on a constant blather, like a huge town hall chat room where everybody is talking at once. However, since the talking is a release of “messenger molecules” and the listening is done by protein receptors, immune cells can actually listen while they are talking!! No need to complain about being interrupted! It’s weird, and foreign to us humans, but this simultaneous talking and listening makes for a far faster exchange of messages than if you had to stop and listen every time the other guy was talking (like we humans usually do).

There is so much activity, what with the constant molecular chatter coupled with a madhouse of cellular scrambling to grab and kill enemy cells as rapidly as possible, that the casual observer might get the impression of chaos. But she would be sadly mistaken. There are no wasted efforts here. Like a Beethoven symphony, everything is extremely well-organized and perfectly coordinated.

The chemical chatter among macrophages and other immune cells is so rapid and efficient that it would make a sophisticated military communications system look like a bunch of kids with tin can phones. Macrophages release clouds of messenger molecules (cytokines, interferons, leukotrienes, and other small molecules)—at rates of up to thousands of molecules per second per cell. Each molecule carries a specific request or command. Like “Bring me this,” or “We need some of that over there,” or “Kill everything that looks like this.” “We need an inflammatory response over here.” Or “We don’t need to do that anymore.” They discuss what the enemy looks like and how aggressive he is. They tell each other how hard to work. They label targets for other cells to identify and kill. They talk about where the enemy is hiding. They discuss current enemy strategy and how best to outmaneuver it.