Navigation system for immune cells
How do the immune system’s defense cells track down or get to pathogens or cancer cells as quickly as possible? How do immune cells know if pathogens are present? A German research team investigated these questions and showed that immune cells use chemical markers to build a kind of navigation system in the body.
Researchers at Saarland University used a statistical method to show how immune cells use specific markers to track pathogens and cancer cells or to advertise an area as already searched. The results were recently published in the specialized journal.physical review messages” to come.
What strategy do immune cells use to search the body?
Some immune cells spread around the body in search of invading cells or cancer cells. If each immune cell randomly searches the body for pathogens, the probability will be high that certain areas are searched more than once while others are not searched at all. It is already known that immune cells use chemical markers as a type of signal to pass on certain information, but the exact strategy for attenuation remains unclear.
With a metal detector across the desert
“Imagine that you are searching for a nugget of gold with a metal detector in the desert,” says Professor Heiko Rieger, comparing the problem experienced by the body’s defense cells when they search for intruders in the body. According to the scientist, it wouldn’t make sense to follow predetermined paths or walk everywhere randomly.
race against time
However, effective action is of paramount importance to the immune system so that pathogens do not multiply suddenly or cancer cells multiply uncontrollably. So researchers have tried to understand when an immune cell is particularly effective at looking for intruders and harmful cancer cells.
The ‘memory’ of immune cells
The working group paid particular attention to the “memory” of cells. This refers to the special biochemical marks that immune cells put on to locate places in the body. These tags can have different functions. Either it attracts additional immune cells to support it in order to eliminate any intruder or tumor cells present, or the marker points to an area that has already been searched.
According to the research group, a thorough understanding of this system can reveal far-reaching insights into the processes in the body through which better treatments against cancer and infectious diseases can be obtained.
Typical calculated procedure for immune cells
Dr. explains. Hugo Mayer. For this purpose, the two experts developed a computer model that simulates the action of cells in order to determine the most efficient approach. Dr. confirms. Mayer.
The physicists’ simulations were able to predict the fastest path a cell would take to find its enemy. “Search turns out to be most effective when a cell—or in our simulation a so-called search agent—has simple instructions on its way such as ‘two steps to the left, then three steps to the right’ according to well-defined probabilities followed,” Meyer explains.
… combined with spontaneity
According to the researchers, the cell also has to “ignore a hint from time to time in order to be as efficient as possible.” When compared to a prospector, this means that he is going to an area where he has heard that there is gold there, but then deviates from the path in the location so as not to look where the others are looking. The physicist sums up: “With this strategy and indeed with a reminder of the last two steps, the average time to find the target decreases by more than 50 percent compared to a random blind search.”
Mixing strategies leads to balance
The two scientists summarize: “If a cell ignores the chemical evidence, it will search blindly and ineffectively.” If they depend too much on a signal, they tend to go in straight lines and are less efficient. Mixing these two strategies strikes the right balance. (FP)
Author and source information
This text complies with the requirements of the specialized medical literature, clinical guidelines and current studies and has been examined by medical professionals.
Diploma Editor (FH) Volker Plasik
- Saarland University: Researchers have found an ideal way to search the body’s cells for pathogens and cancer cells (published date: 13.08.2021), uni-saarland.de
- Meyer, H., Rieger, H: Optimal non-Markovian search strategies with n-step memory; Phys. Rev. 2021, Journal.aps.org
This article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. It cannot replace a visit to the doctor.