Scientists at the German Research Centre for Biotechnology in Braunschweig have successfully filmed individual cells migrating within a functioning lymph node. "We are the first in Europe to have taken such pictures," explains GBF researcher Dr. Matthias Gunzer.
The new findings gleaned from observing immune cells in action in a living organism have been unveiled by Gunzer and his team in an online draft ahead of publication of the scientific journal, Blood. The researchers hope to gain a deeper understanding of how our immune system functions from their detailed study of lymph node processes. "Once we know how the immune system works in a healthy organism," says Gunzer, "we can then find out what went wrong with our bodily defenses in such instances as allergies, auto-immune ailments or AIDS. This could eventually help the medical profession discover new treatments and therapies."
When a pathogen invades a human organism, our immune system dispatches specialized effector cells into battle to either fight the intruder with antibodies or to kill off the infected body cells. In order for our immune defenses to know exactly what needs to be done, they must first be able to recognize the distinguishing features of the invading pathogen. The enabling factor here are the so-called antigen presenting cells, or APCs. They collect snippets of the intruding bacteria or viruses and "show" these to the effector cells - sort of like a police mug shot. This process takes place in the lymph nodes and was something that until now could only be replicated in a test tube.