They find unsuspected facets of the immune system

Neutrophils, in yellow color.

Neutrophils, in yellow color.

Spanish researchers have discovered that neutrophils, the most abundant cells of our innate immune system, have many more functions in the body than previously thought, a finding that opens up new therapeutic possibilities for the treatment of multiple diseases, such as Cancer.

Those responsible for the work are scientists from National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) and the results are published in the journal Cell.

Specifically, these show that neutrophils acquire new characteristics when they access the tissues and these particularities help to maintain the vital functions of the organs.

In a note, the CNIC recalls that the cells of the immune system defend us against external pathogens; that is, they protect against microorganisms that cause and develop diseases and, in addition, help to repair damage to the body such as wounds or bone fractures. Within these cell types are lymphocytes and cells of the innate immune system.

Lymphocytes produce specific antibodies against viruses or bacteria to develop immunity to these pathogens. The cells of the innate immune system, however, provide us with a rapid but nonspecific response, which can sometimes provoke an uncontrolled inflammatory response, such as that observed in the lungs of seriously ill patients with covid-19, explains Andrés Hidalgo.

The bone marrow manufactures huge amounts of neutrophils every day and from there they reach the blood and are distributed to practically all the tissues of the body. These cells have a very short life, less than 24 hours, so it has always been thought that their ability to adapt and acquire new functions was very limited.

But in the now published study, Hidalgo's team has found that incorporating these blood cells into tissues causes them to acquire previously unknown properties.

"The fascinating thing is that each organ seems to acquire functions that are useful for that particular tissue. For example, in the case of the lung, we have seen that neutrophils gain the ability to help in the formation of blood vessels, while in the skin they could favor the integrity of the skin epithelium ", points out the leader of this research promoted by the" la Caixa "Foundation.

This plasticity to produce changes in the properties of cells has been identified in healthy individuals, which suggests that these leukocytes participate in a wide variety of normal functions in the body and that they are not just limited to fighting infections.

"Something particularly exciting is that if we can decipher the mechanisms that control the function of these cells, we will be able to develop new therapies to exploit their plasticity for our own benefit," explains Iván Ballesteros.

In the case of cancer, for example, tumors need to generate the formation of new blood vessels to grow and, in order to stop tumor development, it is necessary to identify how tumors affect the plasticity of the immune system to promote the formation of these vessels.

Andrea Rubio concludes: "In essence, we show that, despite having a short life, neutrophils can change their function and that they do so precisely when they enter the tissues. Having identified these changes allows us to better understand the role of different types of immune cells in the development of diseases ".


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