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In world’s first, immune cells imaged responding to infection at the same time.

The immune system is a system of many biological structures and processes within an organism that protects against disease. To function properly, an immune system must detect a wide variety of agents, known as pathogens, from viruses to parasitic worms, and distinguish them from the organism’s own healthy tissue.  If a person has an infection, immune cells are activated to protect them against getting the infection again.  However, not much is known about the complexity of communication between the cells.

Researchers have been attempting to unlock crucial information about how these immune cells talk to one-another and work together to defeat the hostile invader. It is the general consensus that this insight will open the door to development of next-generation vaccines.  Now, researchers from the University of Melbourne, using state-of-the-art microscopy, have painstakingly captured images of the interactions of three crucial types of immune cells rallying to destroy the herpes simplex virus.  The opensource results were published in the journal Immunity.

Previous studies show that dendritic cells, killer T cells and helper T cells need to interact to start an immune response, however, it is unknown how and when they provide signals to each other. The team state that the new images reveal the dynamic interplay of these immune cells to swap signals.  They go on to add that they don’t yet know how to make good vaccines against many diseases, however with this new knowledge, the medical community may be able to direct vaccines in new, more targeted ways.

The current study labelled the cells, which are one-quarter the width of the average human hair, in different colours and examined them in live tissue under a very powerful microscope.  The killer T cells were dyed white, the helper T cells were dyed green and dendritic cells were dyed red and the images magnified 400 times.   The researchers then edited hundreds of photographs together to make a moving image of the process occurring.  The group have released the video of this never-before-seen event.

The lab state that to their knowledge this is the first time that of these immune cells have been seen at once responding to an infection.  They go on to conclude that this information will help researchers design better vaccines that recruit the very effective killer cells to join the fight.

For the future, although the researchers only looked at one virus the process is thought to be the same for any pathogen, whether it’s HIV, malaria or bacteria. They are now making plans to investigate other pathogens using this exciting new technique.

Source:  University of Melbourne 


Killer T cells (red) and helper T cells (green) are shown in the lymph nodes after Herpes Simplex virus infection.  Credit:  The University of Melbourne.
Killer T cells (red) and helper T cells (green) are shown in the lymph nodes after Herpes Simplex virus infection. Credit: The University of Melbourne.




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