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Protein KIF21B is vital for effective formation of immune synapses – where immune cells meet antigens

03 March 2021

Keep it Short

When a cell becomes infected it calls in the body’s emergency services. Immune cells come running, all sirens blaring and equipped with a sort of molecular fireman’s ladder: an ‘immunological synapse’ formed of a star-shaped microtubule scaffold (green in the immune cell pictured) that latches on and provides access to the infection site. How this network of tiny protein tubes rapidly forms is unclear. Researchers investigated KIF21B, a protein that shuttles along the tubes, and found that without it microtubules grew unwieldy, and the synapse couldn’t form. With KIF21B restored, microtubule growth was halted whenever it reached the tip, enabling the synapse to form, unencumbered by overlong components. KIF21B is known to be involved in multiple sclerosis, and microtubules are central to cell division (and hence cancer). Treatments already in use act on microtubule development, so better understanding of these processes could lead to improved options and outlooks for patients.

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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