Cell division find prompts overhaul of immune response modeling

July 21, 2009
Cell division find prompts overhaul of immune response modeling
Research by Professor Phil Hodgkin at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute into the mechanics of how two types of white blood cells grow and die is fundamentally changing the development of computer models that are used to predict how immune system cells respond to a pathogenic threat. Credit: Cameron Wells, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute into the mechanics of how two types of white blood cells grow and die is fundamentally changing the development of computer models that are used to predict how immune system cells respond to a pathogenic threat.

A team led by Professor Phil Hodgkin, head of the institute's Immunology Division, is investigating the proliferation and survival of T and B lymphocytes - that are crucial to the body's ability to generate immunity.

When lymphocytes are exposed to pathogens they are stimulated to undergo a series of cell divisions, which increases the number of lymphocytes many hundredfold. After a period the cells stop dividing and 95 per cent of the newly-generated cells die.

Professor Hodgkin said although there was considerable variation in the number of divisions cells went through before they died, existing computer models had been developed assuming all cells were mechanically identical. However, biologists have long been aware that cells never behave identically. This variation is usually dismissed as 'noise' or irrelevant biological variation.

"About 10 years ago I was struck by the thought that by ignoring the immense amount of variation in cells we might be missing something important," Professor Hodgkin said. "What if the variation is a design feature of the cells? What if they're doing it deliberately? My lab has been pursuing the implications of this idea ever since."

In an attempt to revamp computer models of the immune response to accommodate individual cells, Dr Edwin Hawkins, Dr John Markham and Mr Liam McGuinness at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, for the first time in science, followed hundreds of lymphocytes and their offspring through all their cell divisions until their deaths. They also recorded how this variation in lymphocyte behaviour was transmitted through cell generations.

The research has been published today in the USA.

"We found that all the offspring of a single cell died at the same ; their lifespan is programmed from that very first cell," Professor Hodgkin said. "We also observed that cell 'siblings' took a similar amount of time to die. This tells us that a very large part of the fate of individual cells is locked in and programmed early."

Professor Hodgkin said it appeared that when a lymphocyte first divided chemicals were produced that were progressively diluted as the cell went through its divisions. When levels of these chemicals fell below a certain threshold the cells stopped dividing and died, he said.

"With accurate information on the time it takes for a lymphocyte to divide, the time taken to die and the number of cell divisions an individual cell goes through, we can develop new mathematical models that are correct not only at a single-cell level but that also hold true for a whole population of cells."

Accurate computer-based models of the immune response are a holy grail for scientists as they promise to unlock new therapies for infectious diseases, and allow careful investigation of autoimmune conditions.

Source: Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Researchers illustrate how muscle growth inhibitor is activated, could aid in treating ALS

January 19, 2018
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine are part of an international team that has identified how the inactive or latent form of GDF8, a signaling protein also known as myostatin responsible for ...

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

January 18, 2018
T cells play a key role in the body's immune response against pathogens. As a new class of therapeutic approaches, T cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, ...

Weight flux alters molecular profile, study finds

January 17, 2018
The human body undergoes dramatic changes during even short periods of weight gain and loss, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Secrets of longevity protein revealed in new study

January 17, 2018
Named after the Greek goddess who spun the thread of life, Klotho proteins play an important role in the regulation of longevity and metabolism. In a recent Yale-led study, researchers revealed the three-dimensional structure ...

The HLF gene protects blood stem cells by maintaining them in a resting state

January 17, 2018
The HLF gene is necessary for maintaining blood stem cells in a resting state, which is crucial for ensuring normal blood production. This has been shown by a new research study from Lund University in Sweden published in ...

Magnetically applied MicroRNAs could one day help relieve constipation

January 17, 2018
Constipation is an underestimated and debilitating medical issue related to the opioid epidemic. As a growing concern, researchers look to new tools to help patients with this side effect of opioid use and aging.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

E_L_Earnhardt
not rated yet Jul 22, 2009
Review "Telemeer" science! When the last spining electron falls off the "tree" division is done!

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.