NIAID researchers show how immune cells swarm to infections

Researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases showed in an online issue of Nature on Sunday how specialized immune cells called neutrophils form tight clusters at wounds and infected areas.

Neutrophils are infection-fighting white blood cells that look for signs of infection or injury while circulating throughout the body. When the cells find something, like a cut on the skin, they move into the body's tissues and form tight defense clusters, similar to how insects swarm. By doing this, they kill and digest harmful bacteria trying to enter the body and break down damaged tissue.

Scientists have been able to study neutrophils before, but were unaware how the cells communicate with one another.

Scientists at the NIAID's Laboratory of Systems Biology used advanced microscopes to observe how neutrophils behaved in the skin of mice. They found that the neutrophils used a lipid called LTB4 to communicate with each other once the initial cells found the infection or wound. The lipids helped guide the cells to the source of the problem. Integrins then worked with LTB4, along with other chemicals to promote interaction among the neutrophils.

The scientists hope that with this new knowledge, they will be able to manipulate this network of communication to strengthen immune response or treat chronic inflammation.