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Understanding how cytotoxic T cells swarm to and attack their targets

14 January 2021

Search and Swarm

Microscopic detectives patrol the streets of our body, watching for trouble in every tissue and organ. If they spot a crook, they radio for backup. These immune system officers are cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs). CTLs sniff out invading bugs or cells turned bad, like cancer, and are even given as treatment for some cancers. How they coordinate independently from other immune system components is unclear, and better understanding could lead to improved treatment efficacy. A new study examined the process in a 3D recreation of a tumour and its environment, and showed that once a CTL finds a tumour, it calls in others with chemical signals. More arrive, in turn building the alarm call and creating a swarm (green) which attacks the tumour cells (purple), leaving just broken down remnants (red). Many therapies aim to boost the immune system’s anti-cancer arsenal, and this tumour-targeting strategy could be a useful addition.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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