News of the WeekImmunology

Elusive Interferon α Producers Nailed Down

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Science  11 Jun 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5421, pp. 1746
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5421.1746

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On page 1835, a team of immunologists reports pinning down the origins of a key component of our immune defenses: natural interferon-producing cells (IPCs), which churn out huge amounts of interferon a. This so-called cytokine has a variety of immune stimulatory effects that help protect cells against viral and bacterial infections, and it also curbs tumor growth. The IPCs turn out to be the immature forms of a special type of dendritic cell, an immune system sentinel that engulfs foreign proteins, or antigens, chops them up, and displays the pieces to other immune cells, the T cells. Thus, the cell turns out to have two roles in immunity, one when it's young and the other when it matures.