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Langerhans cells – a type of immune cell – clear debris from damaged nerves cells in injured skin

07 June 2023

Tip the Scales

Oof! Papercut. When you damage your skin, you sever the dense network of nerve fibres in your biggest organ. These nerves sense pain, temperature, and itching, which helps keep you safe. When these fibres snap, your body breaks them down, producing cellular debris that must be cleared for new nerve fibres to grow. Despite the importance of this process, we haven't understood its mechanisms – until now. By plucking scales from zebrafish skin and following the repair process in living animals, scientists have uncovered the cellular details of this cleanup operation. Here, we see immune cells called Langerhans cells (blue) hoovering up nerve fibre debris (pink). This new role for Langerhans cells was completely unknown and has important clinical implications. Previous research has found that nerve damage disorders caused by diabetes and cancer chemotherapy are linked to changes in the number of skin Langerhans cells – targeting them could lead to new treatments.

Written by Henry Stennett

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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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