Watching assassin cells at work

L'Oréal Fellow Misty Jenkins and her colleagues at the Peter Mac have a paper published on Sunday that reveals how our immune cells kill damaged damaged, virus-infected or cancerous cells taking between one and two minutes to make the hit. Then these serial killers are free to strike again. And although the killer cells themselves are vulnerable to the poisons they use, they are somehow able to protect themselves from damage.

That's the chilling picture painted in the paper in the 1 September edition of the The Journal of Immunology of which Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute researchers Dr Jamie Lopez and Dr Misty Jenkins are joint first authors. Jenkins was last week was awarded a prestigious L'Oréal Australian and New Zealand For Women in Science Fellowship for her work on killer T cells.

The findings should open the way to better understanding and more efficient cooperation with the immune system in treating disease.

The Peter MacCallum research used a new live-cell developed by Lopez and Dr Ilia Voskoboinik to log exactly what goes down during a hit. The live imaging technique allows immunologists to determine the exact time at which the hit is initiated. It can be used to unravel other fundamental details of how the cells of the immune system operate, the researchers the write.

When lock onto a victim they rearrange themselves internally to direct a series of granules—poison-filled grenades—onto the outer membrane of their target. The granules contain a compound called perforin which punches a hole in the membrane to allow the poisons to enter. The cell promptly commits suicide.

The Peter MacCallum group found that in both humans and mice, this process typically took no longer than 100 seconds. The researchers also showed that if themselves were the target, they were just as susceptible as any other cell. But the poisoning process never seems to harm the killer cell. So somehow it manages to protect its membrane from perforin damage. The researchers are already investigating how this happens.

More information: www.jimmunol.org/content/191/5/2328

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How killer immune cells avoid killing themselves

Jun 09, 2011

After eight years of work, researchers have unearthed what has been a well-kept secret of our immune system's success. The findings published online on June 9th in Immunity offer an explanation for how specialized immune ...

Overactive immune response blocks itself

Jul 26, 2013

As part of the innate immune system natural killer cells (NK cells) play an important role in immune responses. For a long time they have been known as the first line of defense in the fight against infectious ...

How do we kill rogue cells? Assassin's tricks revealed

Oct 31, 2010

A team of Melbourne and London researchers have shown how a protein called perforin punches holes in, and kills, rogue cells in our bodies. Their discovery of the mechanism of this assassin is published today ...

Recommended for you

Could trophoblasts be the immune cells of pregnancy?

Dec 18, 2014

Trophoblasts, cells that form an outer layer around a fertilized egg and develop into the major part of the placenta, have now been shown to respond to inflammatory danger signals, researchers from Norwegian University of ...

Moms of food-allergic kids need dietician's support

Dec 18, 2014

Discovering your child has a severe food allergy can be a terrible shock. Even more stressful can be determining what foods your child can and cannot eat, and constructing a new diet which might eliminate entire categories ...

Multiple allergic reactions traced to single protein

Dec 17, 2014

Johns Hopkins and University of Alberta researchers have identified a single protein as the root of painful and dangerous allergic reactions to a range of medications and other substances. If a new drug can ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.