T-cells, or lymphocytes, are the body's natural defense mechanism against infection, directly attacking foreign bodies such as bacteria and viruses. The body contains millions of different lymphocytes that fight specific infectious microbes. Research published in the March 3, 2006 issue of Science Express suggests that having a wide variety of each specific T-cell in fewer quantities leads to optimal survival and activity of these infection-fighting cells. Competition within each type of T-cell allows the body to maintain a diverse inventory of natural infection fighters.
"Without this balance, a body's immune system will not have the desired response when faced with infection," said Marc Jenkins, professor of microbiology at the University of Minnesota and co-author of the study. "These findings could aid the development and production of vaccines and lead to further research on how the body fights specific infections, such as HIV."
Jenkins and his student, Jason Hataye, from the joint M.D./Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota, developed a method to monitor very small numbers of specific T-cells in mice. Using this system, they found that the cells survived and activated at a significantly higher rate in mice that contained the normal amount of these T-cells, as opposed to those that were intravenously injected with 2,000 times the normal amount of that type of T-cell.
"It's a needle in the haystack problem. We used a magnet to find the needle," said Hataye. "The ability to monitor the lifespan and survival of one specific cell type will be key to future research and understanding how these cells interact."
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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