MAY 21, 2019 6:12 PM PDT

Visualizing the Maturation of T Cells in the Thymus

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Scientists have visualized how the body uses to tests out important defensive cells and captured the process on video.  The body uses immune T-cells to act as the first line of defense, monitoring the body for invading pathogens like viruses or bacteria. Before those cells are put to use, they must undergo a training process that has now been imaged and described in a report published in Nature Communications

Developing killer T-cells (purple and white) are tested by dendritic cells (yellow), and others, to see if they react to normal proteins from the body. / Credit: University of Texas at Austin

T-cells can also go awry, and attack the body’s own cells by mistake. That dysfunction lies at the heart of some autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, in which the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas get destroyed. This new study may offer new insights into these disorders.

"T-cells have the daunting task of recognizing and fighting off all of the diverse pathogens that we encounter throughout our lives while avoiding attacking our own healthy tissue," explained study co-author and associate professor Lauren Ehrlich. "These cells mature in the thymus, an organ just above the heart, where they 'get educated' to not attack the body."

Study co-author Jessica Lancaster, a postdoctoral researcher, and Ehrlich used a mouse thymus to take video of the maturation mechanism in action. They utilized a set of powerful lasers and fired short pulses while scanning through living tissue slices. They were able to reconstruct cell signals and movements. The researchers observed other cells in the thymus helping the T-cells to mature; the T-cells were given the chance to encounter many normal human proteins that they must ignore once they are released to scan the body for invaders. Different cell types worked together to ensure that the T-cells would be safe to unleash in the body and that if they began to fail, they would self-destruct.

The researchers are hopeful that their imaging tool will help other investigators learn more about the processes occurring in the thymus. 

Learn more about the maturation of T-cells in the thymus from the video.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via University of Texas at Austin, Nature Communications

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
OCT 03, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Growing an Organism From One Cell
OCT 03, 2020
Growing an Organism From One Cell
Scientists have used model organisms to view the first few hours of development in various organisms. A single cell is f ...
OCT 14, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Robots Are Moving Developmental Biology Forward
OCT 14, 2020
Robots Are Moving Developmental Biology Forward
Researchers have created a robot that can analyze the effects of mutations that occur in portions of the genome that hel ...
NOV 01, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
A Better View of the Mechanisms Underlying Night Vision
NOV 01, 2020
A Better View of the Mechanisms Underlying Night Vision
When light levels are low, the rod cells of our eyes go to work to help us see.
NOV 14, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Towards a Better Characterization of Neurons
NOV 14, 2020
Towards a Better Characterization of Neurons
The human body is made up of a wide array of different types of cells, and if we want to understand human diseases and t ...
NOV 27, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Gravity Affects Gene Expression
NOV 27, 2020
Gravity Affects Gene Expression
If people are going to explore deep space, we should learn more about the effects that such an environment would potenti ...
DEC 03, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Health Issues from Spaceflight Caused by Mitochondria
DEC 03, 2020
Health Issues from Spaceflight Caused by Mitochondria
Spending an extended time in space is known to impact various aspects of health, from muscle and bone regeneration to th ...
Loading Comments...