25 June 2013
Successfully protecting us from harm is a full-time job for our immune system and the range of different cells it employs. Among these are mast cells (pictured right) and basophils (in the left panel), which are involved in inflammation during processes like allergic reactions. Both contain numerous sacs of useful substances, visible here as small dots; recognising a harmful molecule causes the cells to release their contents into the bloodstream. These include proteins like histamine, which helps white blood cells to gain access to afflicted areas by making small blood vessels more permeable. Understanding how these important cells are produced may be useful in treating immune disorders. Research in mouse tissue has shown that both cell types are born in the bone marrow, and subsets of bone marrow cells, when treated with specific growth factors, can give rise to mast cells and basophils in the laboratory.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat