Their research, published in the December 2003 issue of Nature Immunology, centered on the role of mast cells. Mast cells are immune cells that are typically found just under the skin and in the lining of the intestine and lungs and were previously associated primarily with the induction of allergic reactions. The Duke researchers report that allergic reactions are only a side effect of mast cells' much more important role as a regulator of the body's immune system.
"Mast cells serve as the command post for the immune system during infections," said Soman Abraham, Ph.D., professor of pathology, associate professor of immunology and senior author of the paper. "White blood cells are sequestered within these nodes and, following proper activation, they can specifically target infectious agents and aid the host in clearing unwanted pathogens."
Abraham said the discovery that mast cells can initiate the activation and swelling of nodes through release of specific signaling molecules points to the possible use of mast cell products for the development of vaccines designed to boost the potency of the immune response.
"Mast cells have been much maligned because of their contribution to many diseases including asthma, arthritis, Crohn's disease and multiple sclerosis," said Abraham. "Our research shows that mast cells play an important role in immune surveillance and defense against infectious agents."
The human immune system comprises two components that protect it against invading pathogens. The first line of defense is the innate immune system, a quick-acting response triggered immediately when a pathogen enters the body. The innate immune response responds the same regardless of the pathogen and attacks the pathogen fo
Contact: Amy Austell
Duke University Medical Center