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High-speed images show how cells mobilize for immune response

ANN ARBOR, MI -- New high-speed imaging techniques are allowing scientists to show how a single cell mobilizes its resources to activate its immune response, a news research study shows.

Howard R. Petty, Ph.D., professor and biophysicist at the University of Michigan Health System's Kellogg Eye Center, has dazzled his colleagues with movies of fluorescent-lit calcium waves that pulse through the cell, issuing an intracellular call-to-arms to attack the pathogens within.

He explains that these high-speed images provide a level of detail about cell signaling that simply wasn't possible just a few years ago.

In the April 15 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Petty provides more detail on cell signaling, depicting what he calls the "molecular machinery" underlying the immune response. He has identified a sequence of amino acids (LTL) that controls the calcium wave pathway and, crucially, the ability of immune cells to destroy targets.

The findings are important because they could eventually lead scientists to design drugs based on the amino acid motif.

"Our clinical goal," explains Petty, "is to characterize the immune cell's signaling function so that we can interrupt it or somehow intervene when it begins to misfire." The process has implications for treating autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and the eye disorder uveitis.

Through images of phagocytosis, the process by which a cell engulfs and then destroys its target, Petty is able to track the movement of calcium waves as they send signals to key players in the immune response. The "calcium wave" is a stream of calcium ions coming into the cell, which is detected by the fluorescence emission of a calcium-sensing dye.

As a cell membrane begins to surround its target, two calcium waves begin to circulate. When the target is completely surrounded, one wave traveling around the cell's perimeter splits in two,
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Contact: Betsy Nisbet
bsnisbet@umich.edu
734-647-5586
University of Michigan Health System
16-Apr-2003


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