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Image of the Week: Killer T Cells Caught on Camera

22 May, 2015

In this striking video, researchers at the University of Cambridge have captured our body’s ‘serial killers’ – cytoxic T cells which hunt down and destroy tumour cells. Cytoxic T cells are a specialised type of white blood cell whose function is to patrol our bodies and kill cells which are cancerous or infected with viruses.

Shown as orange or green in the video, these specialised cells travel around our body using protrusions to explore the surface of the cells they encounter. If they detect the cell as cancerous or infected (blue), they are able to bind to them and inject poisonous cytotoxin proteins (red) to kill the cell.

To capture these crucial events researchers used high-resolution 3D time-lapse imaging. By taking multiple slices through an object and ‘stitching’ them together they built up a final 3D image of the entire cell.

Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow Professor Gillian Griffiths said: “In our bodies, where cells are packed together, it’s essential that the T cell focuses the lethal hit on its target, otherwise it will cause collateral damage to neighbouring, healthy cells. Once the cytotoxins are injected into the cancer cells, its fate is sealed and we can watch as it withers and dies. The T cell then moves on, hungry to find another victim.”

Reference: Ritter, AT et al. Actin depletion initiates events leading to granule secretion at the immunological synapse. Immunity; 19 May 2015

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Neuro Swag permalink
    22 May, 2015 1:13 pm

    Reblogged this on NeuroSwag and commented:

  2. 22 May, 2015 2:23 pm

    Fascinating! Thank you!

  3. Aru Gupta permalink
    22 May, 2015 3:29 pm

    There seems to be a ‘battle of personalities’–as it were–going on inside the human body, the microcosm. These ‘deadly duels’, if the scientist is of sufficient poetic inclination, can easily be ‘narrated’ as part of some epic ‘tale’. We can resort to a suitable model of anthropomorphization reflecting the personalities, the protagonists of contemporary life and society.

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