New receptors encourage immune cells to dispose of dead cells

9 September 2014

New research has identified a way to encourage immune cells to rid the body of dead cells.

In most tissues, specialised immune cells have the ability to engulf billions of dead cells, but when this doesn't happen it can lead to the destruction of healthy tissue and trigger autoimmune disease such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

However, a research team at Salk has identified two critical receptors on these specialised immune cells that help identify and engulf dead cells. The findings, published in Nature Immunology, identified two receptors - Mer and Axl - that are responsible for recognising dead cells in a variety of environments within the body.

"To target these receptors as treatments for autoimmune disease and cancer, it's important to know exactly which receptor is doing what. And this discovery tells us that," said senior author of the work Greg Lemke, professor of molecular neurobiology at Salk.

It found that Mer is the "steady-as-she-goes" receptor, as it cleans out dead cells in healthy tissues on a daily basis, while Axl is the "all-hands-on-deck" receptor and only comes into action in an inflammatory environment resulting from infection or tissue trauma. 

Posted by Jeanette Royston


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