Nav: Home

Filming how our immune system kill bacteria

May 06, 2019

To kill bacteria in the blood, our immune system relies on nanomachines that can open deadly holes in their targets. UCL scientists have now filmed these nanomachines in action, discovering a key bottleneck in the process which helps to protect our own cells.

The research, published in Nature Communications, provides us with a better understanding of how the immune system kills bacteria and why our own cells remain intact. This may guide the development of new therapies that harness the immune system against bacterial infections, and strategies that repurpose the immune system to act against other rogue cells in the body.

In earlier research, the scientists imaged the hallmarks of attack in live bacteria, showing that the immune system response results in 'bullet holes' spread across the cell envelopes of bacteria. The holes are incredibly small with a diameter of just 10 nanometres - about 1/10,000 of the width of a human hair.

For this study, the researchers mimicked how these deadly holes are formed by the membrane attack complex (MAC) using a model bacterial surface. By tracking each step of the process, they found that shortly after each hole started to form, the process stalled, offering a reprise for the body's own cells.

"It appears as if these nanomachines wait a moment, allowing their potential victim to intervene in case it is one of the body's own cells instead of an invading bug, before they deal the killer blow," explained Dr Edward Parsons (UCL London Centre for Nanotechnology).

The team say the process pauses as 18 copies of the same protein are needed to complete a hole. Initially, there's only one copy which inserts into the bacterial surface, after which the other copies of the protein slot into place much more rapidly.

"It is the insertion of the first protein of the membrane attack complex which causes the bottleneck in the killing process. Curiously, it coincides with the point where hole formation is prevented on our own healthy cells, thus leaving them undamaged," said Professor Bart Hoogenboom (UCL Physics & Astronomy).

To film the immune system in action at nanometre resolution and at a few seconds per frame, the scientists used atomic force microscopy. This type of microscopy uses an ultrafine needle to feel rather than see molecules on a surface, similar to a blind person reading Braille. The needle repeatedly scans the surface to produce an image that refreshes fast enough to track how immune proteins get together and cut into the bacterial surface.
-end-
The research was led by UCL, and carried out in close collaboration with scientists from Imperial College London, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, and from the University of Leeds.

The work was kindly funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Medical Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the European Union.

University College London

Related Immune System Articles:

Too much salt weakens the immune system
A high-salt diet is not only bad for one's blood pressure, but also for the immune system.
Parkinson's and the immune system
Mutations in the Parkin gene are a common cause of hereditary forms of Parkinson's disease.
How an immune system regulator shifts the balance of immune cells
Researchers have provided new insight on the role of cyclic AMP (cAMP) in regulating the immune response.
Immune system upgrade
Theoretically, our immune system could detect and kill cancer cells.
Using the immune system as a defence against cancer
Research published today in the British Journal of Cancer has found that a naturally occurring molecule and a component of the immune system that can successfully target and kill cancer cells, can also encourage immunity against cancer resurgence.
First impressions go a long way in the immune system
An algorithm that predicts the immune response to a pathogen could lead to early diagnosis for such diseases as tuberculosis
Filming how our immune system kill bacteria
To kill bacteria in the blood, our immune system relies on nanomachines that can open deadly holes in their targets.
Putting the break on our immune system's response
Researchers have discovered how a tiny molecule known as miR-132 acts as a 'handbrake' on our immune system -- helping us fight infection.
Decoding the human immune system
For the first time ever, researchers are comprehensively sequencing the human immune system, which is billions of times larger than the human genome.
Masterswitch discovered in body's immune system
Scientists have discovered a critical part of the body's immune system with potentially major implications for the treatment of some of the most devastating diseases affecting humans.
More Immune System News and Immune System Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Our Relationship With Water
We need water to live. But with rising seas and so many lacking clean water – water is in crisis and so are we. This hour, TED speakers explore ideas around restoring our relationship with water. Guests on the show include legal scholar Kelsey Leonard, artist LaToya Ruby Frazier, and community organizer Colette Pichon Battle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#569 Facing Fear
What do you fear? I mean really fear? Well, ok, maybe right now that's tough. We're living in a new age and definition of fear. But what do we do about it? Eva Holland has faced her fears, including trauma and phobia. She lived to tell the tale and write a book: "Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Uncounted
First things first: our very own Latif Nasser has an exciting new show on Netflix. He talks to Jad about the hidden forces of the world that connect us all. Then, with an eye on the upcoming election, we take a look back: at two pieces from More Perfect Season 3 about Constitutional amendments that determine who gets to vote. Former Radiolab producer Julia Longoria takes us to Washington, D.C. The capital is at the heart of our democracy, but it's not a state, and it wasn't until the 23rd Amendment that its people got the right to vote for president. But that still left DC without full representation in Congress; D.C. sends a "non-voting delegate" to the House. Julia profiles that delegate, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and her unique approach to fighting for power in a virtually powerless role. Second, Radiolab producer Sarah Qari looks at a current fight to lower the US voting age to 16 that harkens back to the fight for the 26th Amendment in the 1960s. Eighteen-year-olds at the time argued that if they were old enough to be drafted to fight in the War, they were old enough to have a voice in our democracy. But what about today, when even younger Americans are finding themselves at the center of national political debates? Does it mean we should lower the voting age even further? This episode was reported and produced by Julia Longoria and Sarah Qari. Check out Latif Nasser's new Netflix show Connected here. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.