Immune system fighters speak in patterns of proteins, prefer squishy partners

October 26, 2012, American Institute of Physics

When talking to the key immune system fighters known as T-cells, it helps to speak their language. Now researchers from Columbia University in New York, N.Y., and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia have discovered two new conditions for communication that may help scientists one day harness the power of T-cells to fight diseases such as cancer. The team will present its findings at the AVS 59th International Symposium and Exhibition, held Oct. 28 – Nov. 2 in Tampa, Fla.

T- flow freely throughout the body and communicate with their partner T-cells, in part, through signals expressed in proteins on their surfaces. But unlike other freely circulating cells, T-cells are a bit more touchy-feely. "They stick to each other; they kind of crawl on each other," says lead researcher Lance Kam, a biomedical engineer at Columbia University. The cells spread onto each other; they put new proteins into the interface between them. And these proteins at the interface, Kam continues, "organize into some really beautiful patterns." One arrangement is shaped like a bulls-eye.

Kam's team wanted to find out whether the spacing of the proteins in these cellular tete-a-tetes plays a part in the communication process, and whether the squishiness or rigidity of the cells has any effect on the conversation. Using a custom-made artificial cell, they tested whether the real T-cells "liked" certain configurations of proteins on its surface. Not only did the team find that the spacing of the signaling proteins mattered for the proper activation of T-cells, but the of the surface mattered as well. – like most cells – preferred a more rigid surface, but human T-cells liked squishier partners.

Knowing that these two conditions figure into T-cell activation may help drug researchers design optimal T-cell habitats in which to grow huge T-cell armies to fight cancers and other diseases. While this reality is several years away, the two new findings that the team presents will help advance the harnessing of T-cells for immunotherapy. This type of cancer treatment involves removing a patient's T-cells, expanding their numbers, training them to recognize cancer cells, and re-injecting this fortified army back into the patient. Understanding what kind of partner the T-cells prefer could help to make this process more effective.

"We think that by learning more about the natural interface, the natural signals that activate the cells, we can get better control over the cell expansion process," Kam says, resulting in larger production of high-quality T-cells that can fight cancer.

Explore further: Stem cells, potential source of cancer-fighting T cells

Related Stories

Stem cells, potential source of cancer-fighting T cells

September 20, 2011
Adult stem cells from mice converted to antigen-specific T cells -- the immune cells that fight cancer tumor cells -- show promise in cancer immunotherapy and may lead to a simpler, more efficient way to use the body's immune ...

New study shows how B cells may generate antibodies after vaccination

December 15, 2011
Steve Reiner, MD, professor of Medicine, and Burton Barnett, a doctoral student in the Reiner lab at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, have shown how immune cells, called B lymphocytes, are ...

Cell receptor could allow measles virus to target tumors

August 25, 2011
Canadian researchers have discovered that a tumor cell marker is a receptor for measles virus, suggesting the possible use of measles virus to help fight cancer. Their findings appear in the Open Access journal PLoS Pathogens ...

Cancer stem cell vaccine in development shows antitumor effect

April 2, 2012
Scientists may have discovered a new paradigm for immunotherapy against cancer by priming antibodies and T cells with cancer stem cells, according to a study published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association ...

Recommended for you

Boosting cancer therapy with cross-dressed immune cells

January 22, 2018
Researchers at EPFL have created artificial molecules that can help the immune system to recognize and attack cancer tumors. The study is published in Nature Methods.

Workouts may boost life span after breast cancer

January 22, 2018
(HealthDay)—Longer survival after breast cancer may be as simple as staying fit, new research shows.

Cancer patients who tell their life story find more peace, less depression

January 22, 2018
Fifteen years ago, University of Wisconsin–Madison researcher Meg Wise began interviewing cancer patients nearing the end of life about how they were living with their diagnosis. She was surprised to find that many asked ...

Single blood test screens for eight cancer types

January 18, 2018
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers developed a single blood test that screens for eight common cancer types and helps identify the location of the cancer.

Researchers find a way to 'starve' cancer

January 18, 2018
Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) have demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to starve a tumor and stop its growth with a newly discovered small compound that blocks uptake of the vital ...

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

January 18, 2018
Cancer metastasis, the migration of cells from a primary tumor to form distant tumors in the body, can be triggered by a chronic leakage of DNA within tumor cells, according to a team led by Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial ...

0 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.