Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Kill Thy Neighbour?
25 May 2012

Kill Thy Neighbour?

Patrolling our body, in search of diseased or foreign cells, is a crack squad of biological assassins known as natural killer (NK) cells. When they spot a sick cell, NK cells lock on, punch a hole and inject a payload of deadly enzyme-packed granules that kill within minutes. Using a new type of super-resolution microscope, and with laser ‘tweezers’ to manipulate the cells, researchers can now spy on the execution in greater detail than ever. Pictured is an NK cell (left) deciding whether its target cell (right) is dangerous. If deemed so, a ring-like tunnel will form (at the contact point dyed green) through which the toxic granules pass. NK cells play a prominent role in our immune system with duties that range from killing cancer cells to rejecting donor organs. In these scenarios, understanding the modus operandi of our natural killers is likely to aid development of new treatments.

Written by Kat Arney

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