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MGH study identifies key immune system molecule

Researchers from MassGeneral Hospital for Children have identified a molecule that is key to how white blood cells called macrophages recognize the common bacteria E. coli. The study, which may lead to better ways of fighting infections, is being issued on March 24 as an advance online publication of the journal Nature. It will appear in a future print edition of the journal.

The body's immune response against baterial infection consists of the coordinated activities of a variety of white blood cells. Among these are cells known as macrophages, which ingest and destroy the invaders in a process called phagocytosis. In the current study, researchers from the Laboratory of Developmental Immunology at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, the pediatric service of Massachusetts General Hospital, studied macrophages from the fruitfly Drosophila.

"The basic templates of how organisms protect themselves against infection go back millions of years in evolution, so we can learn lessons from flies that apply to humans," says R. Alan Ezekowitz, MBChB, DPhil, chief of Pediatrics at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and head of the Laboratory of Developmental Immunology. "In this study we look at a very ancient but very important process: how bacteria are recognized and eaten by immune cells called phagocytes [a group that includes macrophages]." Ezekowitz is the study?s senior author.

Using a new method of turning off specific genes, Ezekowitz's team ? led primarily by postdoctoral fellow Mika Ramet, MD, PhD ? identified 34 macrophage proteins that are essential to the process of phagocytosis. One of these proteins is a cell surface receptor -- a molecule that sits on a cell?s outer membrane and receives chemical signals -- called PGRP-LC. The researchers found that inactivating PGRP-LC destroyed macrophages' ability to recognize and ingest E. coli bacteria but not another type of bacteria called S. aureus, suggesting that the protein is critical
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Contact: Sue McGreevey
smcgreevey@partners.org
617-724-2764
Massachusetts General Hospital
24-Mar-2002


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