I’m sure you’ve spent many a night lying awake in bed wondering about your immune system; how it works and what would happen when one of the ‘soldiers’ in your immune system’s army encounters a diseased cell, right? Like, how exactly do your innards cope with these rogue, infected cells?
Well, Drew Berry has created some nifty animations of the inner workings of the cell at the microscopic level, one of which shows what happens when one of your body’s killer T cells seeks out and finds another cell infected by a virus or bacteria (infected cells are recognized by tiny traces of the intruder, antigen, found on their surface, which the killer T cell detects with receptors on its own surface). The process is called Apoptosis, which as one commenter on the video on YouTube puts it:
Basically it is a cascade of proteins activating other proteins. Eventually, the end product protein breaks down the cytoskeleton of the [diseased] cell, which determines the cell’s rigidity and structure, causing the cell to essentially disintegrate.
The killer T cell produces one type of protein, which produces another inside the infected cell, and so on and so on, until a certain protein (caspase 3) is produced that has the effect of causing the diseased cell to ‘pop’ and disintegrate, making it easy for phage cells to clean up the mess by ingesting the smaller bits and bobs that hang around like they’ve nothing better to do.
It’s a fascinating process that’s now easier to visualize with the help of animations such as the ones Drew Berry has spent many, many months researching and putting together.
Here’s the apoptosis clip (just over 4 minutes long), which shows how the process works.
More cool and geeky animations can be found at Molecular Movies, a portal to cell and molecular animation.