Microscopic video footage has shed light on the epic battles fought by our immune systems every day. In a new study, a cross-disciplinary team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania track how T cells move through brain tissue as they seek and destroy the parasite toxoplasma gondii in mice. The parasite, the subject of an in-depth story in the March 2012 issue of The Atlantic, infects millions of humans, and though usually dormant, it can have serious health consequences. In this video, produced by Kurtis Sensenig, the immune cells of mice (green) move in a combination of short and long spurts and pauses to search for parasites (red) that are similar to the hunting patterns of predatory animals and foraging honey bees.
The research involved a unique collaboration between the laboratories of senior authors Christopher Hunter, professor and chair of the Pathobiology Department in Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, and Andrea Liu, the Hepburn Professor of Physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Penn Vet postdoctoral researcher Tajie Harris and physics graduate student Edward Banigan also played leading roles in the research ...
This parallel with animal predators also makes sense because parasites, like prey species, have evolved to evade detection.
“Many pathogens know how to hide, so T cells are not able to move directly to their target,” Hunter said. “The T cell actually needs to go into an area and then see if there’s anything there.”
The model is also relevant to cancer and other immune-mediated diseases, Hunter noted.
“Instead of looking for a parasite, these T cells could be looking for a cancer cell,” he said. By knowing what controls T cell movement, “you might be able to devise strategies to make the T cells more efficient at finding those cells.”
Don't miss Sensenig's incredible video of drones performing the James Bond theme for another lab at the University.