June 30, 2017 / All Stories

Science Rocks! The social network inside your body

What does your social network have in common with your immune system? More than you might think.

Illustration of human cells. ©royaltystockphoto.com

Science Rocks features AbbVie scientists who share interesting research in their field and why it matters. In this month's feature, Melissa Matzelle, MS, Ph.D., senior scientist, immunology, AbbVie, kicks off the series with the surprising things our social network and immune system have in common.

What’s your immune system’s relationship status?

A recent study published in Nature Immunology revealed the sophisticated communication network immune cells use to talk to one another. The authors of this paper harnessed different technologies to uncover the messaging signals, called proteins, and the signal receivers, called receptors, used by 28 different cell types.

By mapping the social interactions of the proteins and receptors, these scientists defined not only how individual cell types communicate with one another, but more importantly, the intricate signaling network that exists between all of the different types of immune cells. Alterations in this messaging system occurred when these cells were activated by immune triggers, highlighting the dynamic nature of this communication network.

With this research, we now know what immune cells are saying – the social interactions – and who they’re talking to – their social network. This paves the way to understanding the miscommunication that occurs in disease.

My research interests are focused on a cell called the macrophage, which is Greek for “big eaters.” Macrophages gobble up debris and foreign substances that enter our body to prevent infection, and in doing so, use signaling proteins to warn their neighbors, as well as distant cells about the invading pathogen. This research found that activated macrophages have a large and lively social network.

Not only are macrophages extremely talkative, sending out numerous messaging signals when activated, but also become very good listeners of their environment by expressing more signal receivers. And, when threatened, macrophages and other responding immune cells tap their social network to coordinate efficient pathogen elimination.

While scientists often study specific types of cells in isolation, this research tells us that we need to look at a cell’s relationship status, friend requests and online activity – their social network. Re-establishing normal communication between immune cells may be the key to restoring immune signaling following the onset of autoimmune disease.

Read the full study here.

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Jaquelin Finley
Email: Jaquelin.finley@abbvie.com
Call: +1 847-937-4111
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