Bursts of Waves Drive Immune System Soldiers Toward Invaders

By Wallace Ravven, UCSF Today | August 15, 2007

Scientists have discovered that torrents of microscopic waves propel white blood cells toward invading microbes. The discovery -- recorded on videotape -- holds the potential for better understanding and treatment of cancer and heart disease.

Visible only under a very high-resolution light microscope, the dynamic waves are made of a signaling protein that directs cell movement. This protein and a second key player were already known to trigger cells to move, but their interaction to generate the self-sustaining waves has now been revealed.

"Seeing the wavelike dynamics of this protein, Hem-1, for the first time was easily the most instantly thrilling and illuminating finding in my scientific career," says Orion Weiner, PhD, of the University of California, San Francisco, who led the scientific team. "It immediately suggested how this protein might be organizing cell movement -- an idea that our subsequent experiments validated.

"We never expected to see this sort of complex behavior within cells, but in retrospect it is an absolutely ingenious way to organize cell movement. We're getting our first glimpses that take us beyond knowing that this protein is important for cell motility to learning how it might organize the complex choreography of cell movement."

The videotape of the unsuspected action shows wave upon wave advancing like a series of exploding fireworks.

Findings May Lead to New Strategies for Cancer, Heart Attacks
The research findings are reported in the August 13, 2007 online edition of the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) Biology. Lead author is Weiner, who is assistant professor of biochemistry at UCSF.

Read more at Wallace Ravven, UCSF Today