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A Killer Handshake

The Killer Handshake


I have just read an interesting article from a Science journal about a very important cell line we all have streaming through our bodies.  The article came from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and was led by Khalid Salaita, a physical chemist at Emory University. But before I take you on this journey, I need to familiarize you with some of the basics about these cells, else you will not appreciate this wonderful discovery.


Our survival as biological beings depend on a certain internal social government; much like the social government we find ourselves daily. We can function optimally, and thrive as a people when certain forms of regulation are in place.  The role of a lawyer and a plumber are vastly different.  However, the laws which they follow and depend on assure their ongoing function.  They follow the same traffic laws (supposedly), and if they commit a crime, they share a similar sanction.  Laws are in place to optimize our existence and meaningful function in a coexistent and developing world.  Even though I could break away here and vent about specific incongruent laws that our culture currently endorses, I will stay to the fence posts of my main topic.


Laws are important for any established society.  This is also very true for the “governing laws” of our internal environment. Each cell in a healthy body functions according to their established roles and follow a “body-wise” guide of what they can and cannot do.  “How is that so?”, you may ask.  Well simply, nearly every cell in your body has a copy of the complete personnel directory. It is the DNA which is shared with every cell. But it would be a total waste of time if anyone attending a job had to first know what everyone else is supposed to be doing before they do their particular task, right? For this reason, when a cell is ready for its assignment fresh out of the factory, it is told what role it is to fulfill.  The little protein fingers inside the cell’s office run across the directory and opens only the section, chapter and paragraph of that thick DNA record to read exactly what role it is responsible to achieve for the body.  It has a programed procedure and a particular range of freedoms which other cells may not have.  It then goes to work by submitting requests to its own internal factory which builds the right characteristics, the right uniform, the right tools to do what it is supposed to do.




Now, let’s look at a particular cell line that belongs to the body’s defense system.  Even though there exist a wide range of roles and players in this important system, I want to turn our attention to the main policing cells which assure our optimal survival day in and day out, without cease. These are the lymphocytes.   Now there are divisions and subdivisions of these special guardians. In the broadest class, there is a B-Cell line and T-cell line.  The difference in function, as assigned by name, is determined by their point of birth. B-cells derive mostly from the Bone, as with most cells in our body.  T-Cells derive mostly from a structure below our neck, known as the Thymus.



It is the B-cells which are responsible for manufacturing Antibodies, which attack threatening foreigners known as Antigens.  This is why a doctor will often feel the nodes in your throat, under your arms, in the fold of your elbows or behind your knees, when you go to the clinic during an acute sickness.  When these cells are not out patrolling the body, they are checking in with the front desk of these nodes.  If they find something unusually and bring it to the desk, specific attack missiles known as Antibodies are manufactured for this new target. Manufacturing these missiles requires more space on their work tables, so more room is demanded for this priority task.  This is why they swell up.

As for Helper T-cells, these have a very specialized task in the patrol.  Their roles are quite different though they have the same purpose in our body, to protect against foreign invasion. But they are not so much concerned with antigens floating around the blood stream highways.  Their concern is mostly about covert operations.  This is where the nasty virus comes in.  You see, viruses survive by landing on the outer walls of your cells and sneaking into your cells by drilling through the wall and inserting modified instructions into your cells. The internal cell workers are always doing their particular job by reading their own instruction plans.  When the unfamiliar information drifts through the cell environment, the “help desk” redirects the lost string information and they find themselves shoulder to shoulder, in line with your own DNA copy. When the routine needs of cell maintenance are signaled they are escorted into your factory without any question.  Now instead of making oranges, they make apples. So your own cells begin recreating the same “parent’ virus that inserted its code into your cells.  When these viruses are prepared to attack, they emerge from their “Trojan horse” and invade other neighboring cells unsuspected.


As a side note, you may understand now why a doctor may not prescribe an antibiotic to you after you were evaluated for a sickness. If the sickness is likely due to a virus you will not benefit from this type of intervention.  Antibiotics can only be effective with foreign particles in your bloodstream. Viruses develop inside your cell’s factories and the host cell will resemble other cells of your body. These infected cells will pass through nearly all gates as healthy cells until the virus particles are matured and rupture the cells wall to do battle with other viable cells. Why? It is designed to survive at all cost, even if it means taking your life to do it.

Now, this is where we need a specialized force known as the Helper T-Cell line.  They have a far more intimate role to play in unmasking the threats they often harbor.  Throughout a cells internal manufacturing process, they routinely submit unfinished parts for inspection.  Some agents in the cell will carry these parts to the surface for quality control assessments.  The T-Cell will move through the narrow passages of side streets and narrow corners in circulation and perform a thorough frisk of cells in its local area.  This is much like a surprise search which starts off as a handshake and progresses to a respectful ‘pat down process’.


t-cell activation


The hands of the T-Cells shake hands offered by the surface of the questioned cell.  If a suspicious element, like an unauthorized weapon, is in the hands of a suspicious cell, it arouses the T-cell’s activity. This leads to whistleblowing and an all-points bulletin to the whole security team.  But the helper T-cell also gives an authorized command for the cell to self-destruct for the sake of its master plan; to assure the survival of the body.


I should mention another sister T-cell type called the Killer T-cell, which has a similar function in policing cells.  However, where Helper T-cells give instructions to an infected cell to self-destruct, a Killer T-cell just acts as a suicide bomber and takes out the cell by sacrificing itself in a heroic gesture for the survival of the body.

My chosen topic about this handshaking is totally fascinating.  It was not really understood previously how infected cells triggered a reaction by the T-cell.  But what was discovered, is that the hands on the surface of infected cells become grabbier! The T-cell slips quickly through the handshaking process during inspections but once it gets ‘grabbed’ by a cell, it becomes activated.  It is much like a cell becoming resistant to arrest or even behaving oppositional to being frisked.


The article further discusses how the threshold of grab makes a difference in the way the T-cell responds.  In fact, it is believed that some cancerous cells provide a local agent which makes the T-cell less discriminating; much like making a T-cell intoxicated!


There is much we do not know.  But I believe we are getting closer to truly “grasping” the methods for defeating many diseases and cancers alike.


You can read more at the links below.






T cells News T cells use 'handshakes' to sort friends from foes
T cell T cells are a subset of lymphocytes that play a large role in the immune response.


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