The immune system is exquisitely controlled by cascades of chemical signals that trigger its cells to target and destroy invaders. Now, one step in this complex process can be done in a Petri dish.
Researchers have discovered a way to activate B cells to produce specific human antibodies in the laboratory. B cells are white blood cells that bind to and process foreign molecules called antigens as part of the body’s immune response. Once they come in contact with an antigen, B cells develop into plasma cells that secrete antibodies — Y-shaped proteins that bind to the foreign invaders and neutralize them or tag them for destruction by other immune cells. B cells also present antigens to T cells, which are immune cells that further fight off infection.
Another reason to love your B cells: Their receptors, known as B-cell receptors (BCRs), are crucial to the long-term memory of the immune system. Once they have been presented with an antigen and activated, B cells retain that antigen’s information so they can even more rapidly boost the immune response the next time they detect it.
For all of these reasons, scientists would like a better understanding of how B cell activation works — and ways to control that activation in the lab for the...
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