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Scientists observe how a close bond activates the immune system

The immune system is highly complex. The cast of characters alone required to marshal an immune response to a foreign invader can number in the millions as the body's soldiers, T cells, are called into action. What triggers this complex response begins when T cells and dendritic cells, another type of immune cell, form a kind of molecular embrace, or immunological synapse, to relay information about intruders.

The communication between these immune cells hasn't been well understood because scientists had no suitable techniques to manipulate it. Now that problem has been solved. In a new study scientists at New York University School of Medicine and the University of California, Berkeley, report that they have observed the exchange of information between immune cells that is required to spark a body wide response to infection.

"This is the first time that anyone has been able to physically manipulate the immunological synapse and measure the effect on T cell signaling," says Michael L. Dustin, Ph.D., the Irene Diamond Associate Professor of Immunology and Associate Professor of Pathology at NYU School of Medicine, and one of the lead authors of the study.

The research by Dr. Dustin and Jay T. Groves of University of California, Berkeley, and their colleagues is a fusion of biology and nanotechnology--devices at the molecular scale. The study sheds new light on the workings of T cells, the body's most specific and potent line of defense against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens, says Dr. Dustin who is also an investigator in the molecular pathogenesis program at NYU's Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine.

The study, published in the November 18, 2005, issue of Science, reveals how T cells analyze and react to the signals of infection at the immunological synapse.

Every T cell wears a unique molecule, called a T cell antigen receptor, on its surface that it uses to detect pieces of foreign proteins called antigen
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Source:New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine


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