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Emory scientists track down immune sentinel cells with gene gun

ATLANTA--Dendritic cells monitor foreign substances in the body and communicate whether they present a danger to the rest of the immune system. Emory immunologists have developed a sensitive method to detect and follow dendritic cells by marking them with a change in their DNA, and have discovered that they are more numerous and longer lived than other scientists had previously observed. Their research uses a gene gun, which shoots DNA into the skin using microscopic gold pellets, and could lead to a faster and simpler way to vaccinate against emerging diseases like West Nile virus, SARS, or hepatitis C.

The research was published online August 10, and will appear in the journal Nature Immunology in September. Lead authors are Sanjay Garg PhD, postdoctoral fellow, and Joshy Jacob, PhD assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory University School of Medicine and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Both are members of the Emory Vaccine Center.

Dendritic cells, the security cameras of the immune system, derive their name from their finger-like projections. They continually capture external proteins, digest the proteins into fragments, and display those fragments on their surfaces. T cells, the police who watch the cameras, have the ability to examine the fragments on the dendritic cells' surfaces and sound the alarm to the rest of the immune system if they determine that those fragments are dangerous. Although other kinds of cells also have the ability to present fragments of foreign proteins to the immune system, dendritic cells are the most proficient, and immunologists call them "professional" antigen-presenting cells.

Dendritic cells migrate between the skin, where one might expect to first encounter an intruder, and the lymph nodes, where T cells and other white blood cells congregate. Dr. Jacob's group used transgenic mice engineered with a marker gene that can be easily detected by staining, but only when that
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Contact: Holly Korschun
hkorsch@emory.edu
404-727-3990
Emory University Health Sciences Center
29-Aug-2003


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