How immune cells prowl like ocean predators – reported in Nature today

Professor Wolfgang Weninger

Professor Wolfgang Weninger

Centenary’s resident immune system imager and dermatologist, Professor Wolfgang Weninger, has played a key role in proposing a new model of how the enforcer cells (T cells) of our immune system search for a parasitic pathogen in the brain.

And it turns out that T cells on the prowl have much in common with marine predators, such as tuna and sharks, as to how they track down their prey.

It’s part of a long-standing collaboration with researchers in the US. The work has just been published in the top-ranking science journal Nature and should give us a better handle on how to support the body’s defences against disease.

The research team – led by the University of Pennsylvania – studied how the immune system copes with the bacterium Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite of the brain of warm-blooded animals including humans. They even were able to identify a specific signalling compound which assists the T cells in their search.

Wolfgang’s role was to develop the techniques which allowed the researchers to track and record the movements of T cells in the brain.

At least a third the world’s population carries this bacterium, which is typically picked up from cats. While generally the immune system copes well with suppressing Toxoplasma, in pregnant women and those with weak immune systems toxoplasmosis can develop and trigger serious conditions, such as the brain disease known as encephalitis.

Learn more about the work of Professor Weninger and his lab at Centenary Institute here.

Read the University of Pennsylvania media release here.