News FocusImmunology

Crossover Immune Cells Blur the Boundaries

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Science  08 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6086, pp. 1228-1229
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6086.1228

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To keep us healthy, the immune system relies on a division of labor between the generic defenses of the innate immune system and the specialized cells of the adaptive immune system. But innate cells that belong to a clan called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) have shown that they can perform functions that researchers had thought were the domain of adaptive cells. By rushing into action, ILCs might bridge the gap between the always-on innate defenses and the slower-but-targeted adaptive response. Findings so far suggest the cells fulfill multiple roles in maintaining immunity and protecting tissues. ILCs may also be useful medically; researchers are discovering that the cells are more abundant in patients with some immune system disorders previously blamed on errant T cells. Ultimately, researchers suggest, it might be possible to press these cells into service to fight infections, tame immune malfunctions, and even improve vaccines.