Immune cells in the human body consult with the neighbouring cells to make decisions just like many of us consulting our friend and neighbours in making decisions.
Scientists have long known the fact about immune cells migrating to the infection site, which is followed by inflammation including redness, swelling and pain.
Researchers from the University of Washington and Northwestern University have recently revealed new evidence that this consultation is not just a consequence of activation of the immune system but the immune cells consult their neighbouring cells before deciding if or not to kick the immune system into high gear.
The findings of the latest research are published in the journal, Nature Communication.
An associate professor at Northwestern University, Josh Leonard said this is an unrecognized aspect of immune system function. Immune cells make coordinated decisions. These cells don’t activate uniformly but rather collectively decide the number of cells to activate so that together the immune system can provide defence against a threat, flight off infection without harmfully overreacting.
Neda Bagheri, an associate adjunct professor at the University of Washington said that important part of this work depends on the development of latest computational models for interpretation of their experiments and to explain how immune cells make coherent decisions.
The first author of the paper is Joseph Muldoon, a graduate student in the Biological Sciences Graduate Program of Northwestern University. He is co-advised by Bagheri and Leonard.
The body’s immune system is constantly working on maintaining a delicate balance. When a threat is introduced, the immune system responds strongly enough to fend off the threat but not so strong that it causes harm to the body.
Understanding the ways to influence inflammation and activation of the immune system could lead to the new treatments for chronic autoimmune disorders or activate the body’s immune system to help battle against cancer.
Leonard said that it is the difference between life and death when it comes to the response by the immune system. If the human body over-responds to an infection, then there are chances of death due to septic shock. If the body doesn’t respond properly, then there are chances of death due to rampant infection. Staying healthy demands the body to maintain the balance between these two extremes.
Muldoon said that it is interesting because the body’s immune system is decentralized. Each immune cell is an individual agent which needs to work collectively and nature has come up with a quick fix for this. Cells come at different activation states but they do that in such a way that on the whole the response by the population is calibrated.
To know more about this phenomenon, the researchers examined how macrophages responded to a chemical produced by bacteria. This chemical is a red flag that alerts the human body to the presence of an infection. They used different techniques to observe the response of individual cell over time. They further used computational models to interpret and explain the observations.
Researchers believe such information could be helpful in the development of better drugs as well as to help the engineering of cell-based advanced therapies.