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Cytotoxic T Cells Really Do The Heavy Lifting

Aug 15, 2016 1:50:33 AM / by Stacy Matthews Branch, DVM, PhD

Man working out in a gym. Many can envision how the cells of the immune system (body’s defense mechanisms) communicate and release factors, such as antibodies, to protect us from invading organisms. These biological and chemical mechanisms used by immune system cells are studied extensively. New data shows that physical forces are involved in the processes used against pathogenic (disease-causing) organisms by immune cells such as cytotoxic T cells, a class of T cells that destroys invading organisms.

Cytotoxic T cells interact with invading cells by way of an immunological synapse. This synapse is the interface between the T cell and the targeted pathogenic cell. A complex structure of cellular proteins forms in this location to carry out the cell-killing mechanisms. When specific target-cell molecules are detected by the cytotoxic T cells, the immunological synapse is formed. Then, the cytotoxic T cells secrete mixtures of cell-killing proteins into the synapse space. Included in the mixture is a protein called perforin. Perforin forms pores in the target cell membrane. These pores give access to enzymes that can enter the target cells to induced cell suicide (apoptosis).

Behind all of this is the exertion of physical force. The tension force is exerted in the synapse and puts strain on the target cell’s surface. This boosts perforin’s pore-forming abilities. Using biophysical experiments, scientist also found that the degree of force exerted across the synapse is directly related to the speed of pore formation on the invading cells. The more force exerted, the faster the pore formation.

This information demonstrates the mechanical component of cell-cell communication and that cytotoxic T cells rely on both physical and chemical actions to operate. The use of mechanical force in the immune response is a very useful mode of operation in situations where rapid and well-organized cell signaling occurs. This is particularly important where communication between cells is very complex, as found in tumor environments.

At HemaCare, we are dedicated to providing researchers with fresh and cryopreserved purified cells. If you are looking to advance your research using cytotoxic T cells, please contact us at (877) 397-3087.


Reference: N.p., 2016. Web. 17 Aug. 2016.

Topics: apoptosis, Cytotoxic T Cells, T Cells, Basic Research

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