Destination Infection: How Immune Cells Move Through the Body

Aug. 21, 2013

When there is injury or inflammation in the body, immune cells (also called lymphocytes) leave the blood stream and travel to the damaged site to get the problem under control. In a recent study in Nature Immunology, Deborah Fowell, Ph.D., associate professor of Microbiology and Immunology, mapped how immune cells move to the injured or infected site.

Contrary to current belief, Fowell’s team found that integrins – molecules on the cell surface that help cells interact with their surroundings – are required for immune cells to get to their final destination. Without them, immune cells stop in their tracks, unable to fight the invader they’re after.

Fowell says that the ability to map immune cells as they journey through the body’s tissues could help with the development of treatments that stop, slow down or speed up the immune response. Such treatments would be extremely useful for autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammatory disorders like psoriasis that are caused by an overly aggressive immune response.