PHILADELPHIA By pairing an intimate knowledge of immune-system function with a deep understanding of statistical physics, a cross-disciplinary team at the University of Pennsylvania has arrived at a surprising finding: T cells use a movement strategy to track down parasites that is similar to strategies that predators such as monkeys, sharks and blue-fin tuna use to hunt their prey.
With this new insight into immune-cell movement patterns, scientists will be able to create more accurate models of immune-system function, which may, in turn, inform novel approaches to combat diseases from cancer to HIV/AIDS to arthritis.
The research involved a unique collaboration between the laboratories of senior authors Christopher Hunter, professor and chair of the Pathobiology Department in Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine, and Andrea Liu, the Hepburn Professor of Physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Penn Vet postdoctoral researcher Tajie Harris and physics graduate student Edward Banigan also played leading roles in the research.
The study, which will be published in the journal Nature, was conducted in mice infected with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. This single-celled pathogen is a common cause of infection in humans and animals; as much as a third of the world's population has a dormant form of this infection present in the brain. However, in immunocompromised individuals, such as those with HIV/AIDS or undergoing organ transplantation, this infection can have serious consequences, including brain inflammation and even death.
Earlier work had shown that T cells a key immune-cell type are central in preventing disease caused by T. gondii. In the new study, the Penn researchers used the infected mice as a natural model system to learn how the movement of T cells in the brain affects the body's ability to control this infection.
Among immunologists, it's widely believed that the movement of im
|Contact: Katherine Unger Baillie|
University of Pennsylvania