A Decade of Imaging Cellular Motility and Interaction Dynamics in the Immune System

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Science  29 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6089, pp. 1676-1681
DOI: 10.1126/science.1221063

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The Immune System in Three Dimensions

Immune cells must traffic within the tissues in which they reside and also through the bloodstream and lymphatic system in order to defend the host against infection. Until 10 years ago, immunologists had very little idea about how the immune response was coordinated in three dimensions. This all changed with the application of two-photon microscopy, applied intravitally or on tissue explants, to the immune system. Germain et al. (p. 1676) review how studies using this technology have informed our knowledge of immune system dynamics and discuss how to apply this technology in the future to gather further insights.


To mount an immune response, lymphocytes must recirculate between the blood and lymph nodes, recognize antigens upon contact with specialized presenting cells, proliferate to expand a small number of clonally relevant lymphocytes, differentiate to antibody-producing plasma cells or effector T cells, exit from lymph nodes, migrate to tissues, and engage in host-protective activities. All of these processes involve motility and cellular interactions—events that were hidden from view until recently. Introduced to immunology by three papers in this journal in 2002, in vivo live-cell imaging studies are revealing the behavior of cells mediating adaptive and innate immunity in diverse tissue environments, providing quantitative measurement of cellular motility, interactions, and response dynamics. Here, we review themes emerging from such studies and speculate on the future of immunoimaging.

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