Health Watch -- Immune Cells

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A discovery about the way immune cells work could help doctors treat a variety of diseases.

T-cells are a major part of the body's arsenal for fighting disease. These are special types of immune cells. In order to fight disease, T-cells have to cross from the bloodstream into the infected tissue. Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas recently discovered how molecules on the surface of T-cells have to work together in order for the T-cells to get to infected tissue so they can fight disease.

It takes a combination of molecules to roll T-cells along blood vessel walls and then stick firmly to the vessel wall so they can move through the blood vessel wall and into the infected tissue. If these molecules aren't present and working together properly, the T-cells will not get the immune response started.

This discovery is important not just for understanding how the body fights infection but also for how autoimmune diseases may work. In autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, T-cells create an immune response that causes inflammation in healthy tissue.

Dr. Mark Siegelman, the UT Southwestern scientist who led the study, says these immune cells may be a target for future treatments for diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. If doctors can keep T-cells from leaving the bloodstream when they're not supposed to, they can prevent the inflammation of autoimmune disorders.

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May 2004

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