Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Breakthrough that may help combat viral infections like HIV

After a whole week on the cells of the immune system, it is exciting to come across an article that describes the use of our own Natural Killer cells' properties to combat serious infections such as HIV.
Natural Killer cells are a type white blood cells or lymphocytes that are an important component of our innate immune system. They are not activated by molecules found on a tumor or a pathogen unlike most other cells, but are rather "shut down" by proteins, called Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA) found on our healthy cells. Since tumor cells and pathogens lack these HLAs, they are immediately killed by Natural Killer cells, (since they are not shut down like with our healthy cells.)

Natural Killer cells recognise the HLA molecules on our cells using a system called "Killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors" (KIR). This pairing is known to play a role in limiting viral replication in people with HIV, slowing the progression of the disease to AIDS. The exact mechanism is unknown, but it has been suggested that a better understanding of the structure of the KIR proteins may help to develop new ways of using Natural Killer cells against viral infection.

This is another promising piece of good news for the fight against HIV!

- Julie Saffarian

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