Researchers at the Board of Governors' Gene Therapeutics Research Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center have confirmed the existence of anatomical structures that channel information exchanges between a T cell and its target, an antigen-presenting brain cell, in laboratory rats. This immunologic synapse, or junction where signals are shuttled between two immune cells, has previously only been observed in cell cultures, in part because of the limitations of imaging and the rapid, touch-and-go nature of the communication itself.
According to the researchers, this work should settle the controversy over the existence and functional significance of mature immunological synapses in vivo during antiviral immune responses. The findings will allow further experimental exploration of immunological synaptic function during normal and pathological immune responses in vivo.
The mechanism of how immunological synapses 'speak' to each other in vivo has not been observed prior to this research. Although formal proof of this awaits the development of drugs or mutations that interfere selectively with synapse formation, the confirmation of these cellular structures increases the understanding of the immune system and paves the way for further research on the body's immune response system. New knowledge in this area may ultimately improve treatment for immune disorders such as MS, cancer, and AIDS.