New warning system discovered in the immune defence

Researchers at Linköping University in Sweden have discovered a previously unknown warning system that contributes to the body's immune system. Mitochondria in the white blood cells secrete a web of DNA fibres that raises the alarm.

mtDNA webcast

                       Credit: Reproduced with permission from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA

Introduction is: White blood cells are major components of the body’s immune defence, and the research group has shown that several types of these cells react against small DNA fragments that are similar to the DNA from bacteria and viruses. The white blood cells spray out a web consisting of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) strands. Mitochondria are present in all cells and normally produce the energy needed by the cell, by burning sugar and fat to form water and carbon dioxide.
The web that the mitochondria release sends signals to the surrounding cells that the body is under attack, and cause other white blood cells to release a signal substance known as “interferon type 1”. This substance helps the immune system to combat the infection.

Conclusion is: High levels of interferon type 1, the signal substance activated by the mtDNA webs, occur in several autoimmune diseases and several types of cancer. The researchers believe that it may be possible to quantify the secreted mtDNA molecules and interpret the warning signals, and in this way understand these diseases better.

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