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'Natural killer' cells keep immune system in balance
Date:10/1/2009

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] Natural killer, or NK cells, are part of our innate immune system. A healthy body produces them to respond early during infection. They are activated and they kill cells infected with a given virus.

It turns out NK cells are even more important to the body than previously thought. Researchers from Brown University and McGill University now know that the cells also help keep T cells major players in cell-mediated immunity from over-responding. Such a balance helps T cells maintain their role in the body's adaptive immune response, rather than becoming too numerous and activated to cause harm.

The discovery, published in the September issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine, could someday be used to help treat patients with compromised immune systems. Managing NK cell production might help stabilize the immune systems of people with HIV or keep patients from rejecting bone marrow or organ transplants.

The findings place an importance on understanding how to keep NK cells around, because they can be lost, said lead author Christine Biron, professor of medical science at Brown University.

"The work reveals two important aspects of NK cell biology, the first piece being understanding how to keep NK cells instead of losing them," said Biron, the Esther Elizabeth Brintzenhoff Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry. "The second is that if you can keep them around, they have an important regulatory function to limit adaptive immune response. If you don't have them during long challenges, your adaptive immune system response could go unregulated and lead to death."

Scientists have known that NK cells have antimicrobial effects. But the newer research focuses on factors that help keep NK cells around. Through studying mice, researchers determined that the ability to keep NK cells around depends on whether they have a particular kind
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Contact: Mark Hollmer
Mark_Hollmer@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert  

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