Distributed around the body, dendritic cells act as the security alarms of the immune system. After sensing the presence of intruders, dendritic cells can transmit the alarm to white blood cells or tell them to relax, depending on the signals they send out.
Researchers at the Emory Vaccine Center and Yerkes National Primate Research Center have discovered that dendritic cells can respond to the same compound, through two different receptors, by sending out both stimulatory and calming messages at once.
The compound is zymosan, a component of yeast cell walls. However, the finding could guide scientists in designing vaccines against many infectious agents since the calming receptor is known to respond to bacteria and viruses as well as yeast. In addition, silencing the calming receptor's messages might boost the immune system's ability to fight a chronic infection.
The results are published in the March 2009 issue of Nature Medicine.
The calming receptor, known as TLR2 (Toll-like receptor 2), uses vitamin A to transmit its signals, which provides an explanation for the connection between vitamin A deficiency and autoimmune diseases. Vitamin A deficiency has been linked to diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and type I diabetes.
This "two signals at once" feature of the immune system can be viewed as the result of an evolutionary tug of war, says senior author Bali Pulendran, PhD, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and Yerkes National Primate Research Center.
"The immune system has to provide a defense against infection, while avoiding the destruction of too much of the body along the way," he says. "At the same time, pathogens have evolved strategies to manipulate the immune system for their own purposes."
Working with Pulendran, postdoctoral fellow Santhakumar Manicassamy, PhD, examined which genes are turned on in dendritic cells
|Contact: Holly Korschun|