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Regina Bailey

Natural Killer Cell Function

By September 16, 2011

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This electron micrograph image shows a lytic granule (yellow) within the actin network (blue) at the immune synapse of a natural killer cell.
Credit: Gregory Rak and Jordan Orange, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Natural killer (NK) cells are cells of the immune system that contain granules with chemicals inside. When NK cells come across a tumor cell or a cell that is infected with a virus, they surround and destroy the diseased cell by releasing the chemical containing granules. These chemicals break-down the cell membrane of the diseased cell, ultimately causing it to burst. With the aid of newly developed microscope technology, researchers have observed how these granules are transported from the NK cells to their intended target cell.

Once a cell is targeted by an NK cell, the NK cell attaches to the corrupted cell at a site called the immunological synapse. Located within the synapse is a dense network of microtubule filaments consisting of a protein known as F-actin. F-actin helps to maneuver the granules through the synapse where they can reach their intended target. The researchers intend to perform further studies focusing on the mechanisms involved in the movement of the granules through the immunological synapse. It is hoped that this information will lead to the development of new methods for the treatment of immune disorders.

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