Decoding the signals that control immune cells
Disorders of the immune system are on the rise, making it increasingly important to understand what causes immune cells to react, and how their reactions can be controlled when needed. Dr. Aaron Marshall, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Immunology, is taking a nuts-and-bolts approach to figure out why cells of the immune system do the things they do.
Marshall is examining molecules that regulate the activities of B cells, a type of white blood cell. While B cells can produce antibodies that protect against viruses such as HIV, they can cause harm in some people by producing antibodies that bind to pollens (leading to allergy) or bind our own body molecules (leading to autoimmunity). If not regulated correctly, B cells can also proliferate uncontrollably, giving rise to leukemia or lymphoma.
Marshall is exploring the signaling networks that control the activities of B cells and other immune cells. Called signal transduction, this mechanism integrates signals from different receptors on a cell's surface and delivers them to the interior of the cell through a complex series of molecular events. The signals instruct immune cells to take specific actions, such as dividing, migrating or even dying.
Marshall is using sophisticated microscopic imaging and genetic techniques to dissect specific molecular interactions and their functions in controlling cell behaviour.
By decoding the molecular signaling network in B lymphocytes, Marshall hopes to understand why things sometimes go wrong with immune cells and identify new strategies to set things right.