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Hitting the Brakes When Cells Get out of Control

B cells

These figures show normal B cells (left) and those from SPPL2A mutant mice (right) with CD74 staining in green and nuclear staining in blue. In SPPL2A mutant mice, CD74 cannot be broken down so it accumulates around the nucleus. 

By Hsei-Di Law

By creating a “traffic jam” in the transport pathway of B cells, researchers have found a potential drug target to slow the proliferation of cancerous cells.

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White blood cells are a crucial part of the immune system that defends the body against infectious microorganisms and foreign particles. There are several types of white blood cell in the body, each with a distinct role. One type of white blood cell, the B cell, functions to create and secrete antibodies.

Antibodies are proteins that chemically “fit” foreign particles and invading microorganisms, and neutralise these pathogens in a number of ways. They can bind to them and damage or destroy them, or they can coat pathogens and cause them to clump together so that they are unable to enter cells. Coating pathogens in antibodies also sends a signal to a different type of immune cell, phagocytes, which ingest pathogens and foreign molecules.

As the body’s antibody factories, B cells are a critical part of its defence system. Without B cells, the body is unable to protect itself and becomes “immunodeficient”.

Immunodeficiency leaves us extremely vulnerable to infections. An example of extreme B cell immunodeficiency is a genetic disease called Bruton’s agammaglobulinaemia. In this disease, a mutation prevents B cells from developing. People with this disease cannot survive their first year of life without treatment.

Patients with immunodeficiency need their immune systems boosted. This can be achieved through blood transfusions or medicines that...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.