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New insight into machinery of immune cells' 'tentacles'

Researchers have identified new molecular components of the machinery that regulates formation of the tentacle-like filaments by which immune system T cells grasp other cells. This embrace by such filaments is critical for the T cell to establish communication with cells called "antigen presenting cells" (APCs). Such communication enables the T cell to program itself to target invading microbes for destruction. Antigens are proteins in invading microbes that the immune system detects to trigger a counterattack.

The researchers said their findings of the machinery of formation of such "actin filaments" could offer targets for drugs to induce the immune system to work more effectively to fight infection; or to damp its stimulation in autoimmune disease.

Led by Duke University Medical Center pharmacologist Ann Marie Pendergast, the researchers published their findings in the Jan. 10, 2006, issue of Current Biology. The research was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Another paper in the same issue -- by Daniel Billadeau and colleagues of the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine -- confirmed the Duke researchers' findings and also implicated the same machinery in regulating calcium mobilization in T cells.

In their studies, Pendergast and her colleagues sought to discover the signaling proteins in T cells responsible for formation, or polymerization, of the protein actin into filaments following activation of the T cells. Such actin filament formation is crucial for the T cell to attach to APCs, called B cells, which collect and display foreign proteins from invading microbes.

The ensuing "conversation" between T and B cells enables the T cell to effectively identify and target such invaders for destruction. The site of contact between the T and B cells has been dubbed the "immunological synapse," because it is a communication link between the cells just as synapses between brain cells are the sites where one brain cell signals an
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Contact: Dennis Meredith
dennis.meredith@duke.edu
919-681-8054
Duke University Medical Center
9-Jan-2006


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