A research team at the University of Oklahoma published a study in the journal Advanced Science that presents a new approach to triggering an adaptive immune response.
The study was led by Handan Acar, Ph.D., the Peggy and Charles Stephenson Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the Gallogly College of Engineering, with collaborators in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the OU Health Sciences Center Mark Lang, Ph.D., and Susan Kovats, Ph.D., who is also a researcher at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. Doctoral student Gokhan Gunay is the first author of the paper.
How Cell Death Causes an Immune Response
It might sound violent, but cell death is an important biological process. Immunogenic cell death occurs when cells are under stress and their membranes are damaged. Besides pathogens — microscopic disease-causing organisms — innate immunity is responsive to what scientists call “Damage-Associated Molecular Patterns,” or DAMPs. These so-called “danger molecules” are released from stressed or dying cells to alert the body to impending danger. When under stress, cells induce the DAMPs danger signals to alert the immune system to the location in the body where the stress is being experienced.
“Cell membrane damage can be accidental because of a physical force like a cut or burn or programmed because of a virus or bacteria, and that damage induces DAMPs release,” Acar said. “For example, if there is an infection in a cell, the pathogen might use the resources in the cell and drive its stress and slow death. The stressed cells release signals to the immune system, which also triggers programmed cell death. Depending on the amount of damage and the duration of time the danger signals are being sent, the immune response increases.”
There are two kinds of immune responses, innate and adaptive. Innate immunity offers initial protection to a virus or bacteria that originated outside of a body, but it is not specific. Through this DAMPs response process, the innate immune system absorbs pathogens and teaches cells adaptive immunity. Put another way, adaptive immunity comes from the body learning over time and creating antibodies specific to those pathogens.
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