White Blood Cells Are Much More Active and Dynamic in their Native Environment

Mo Hongyi

PureInsight | September 23, 2002

According to a news report on Science Daily, May 16, 2002 from California, Irvine, scientists in University of California, Irvine found for the first time that white blood cells are much more active and dynamic than previously assumed and show complex behaviors for responding to foreign bodies. The results were published on May, 2002 issue of scientific journal Science.

Ian Parker, Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior and Michael Cahalan, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics and their coworkers adapted a technique called two-photon imaging to observe individual white blood cells in mice as the cells moved within lymph nodes in the body. The ultra-fast laser pulses from the two-photon imaging system allow imaging of cells lying relatively deep within tissues, and the technique allowed the researchers to observe the cells' behavior in ways that had never been possible using previous techniques.

The previous studies were limited to observing the white blood cells away from their native environment. This study was the first time researchers have seen single immune system cells operating in intact lymph nodes, their native environment in the body, and gives new insight into the tactics used by these cells to fight the disease. White blood cells include T cells and B cells. T cells, which are responsible for directing the body's immune response against foreign bodies (including pathogens) explored a much wider territory within the lymph node than did B cells, which produce antibodies that help target foreign bodies for destruction.

The researchers found that T cells and B cells move much faster in their native lymph nodes than seen in previous research and that the cells appear to move randomly when not stimulated by any number of chemical signals or foreign bodies. The researchers also noticed that T cells abruptly changed their shape, speed and direction, suggesting that they were interacting with some unseen body or signal as they explored the environment within the lymph node.

'These environmental interactions may be key to understanding how white cells function in a living animal and provide valuable insight for the development of new immunosuppressive drugs,' one of the researchers, Mark Miller said.

This discovery raises some questions about the skill with which modern science deals with some problems. In order to describe the problems in quantifiable ways, modern science usually has to first simplify the problems. This can cause neglect of factors that are labeled as insignificant ones, such as linearization, or divides the whole system into numerous parts and begin with one of them. However, for some complex systems such as the human body, many factors are interconnected and none of the interactions should be neglected. Thus, for these systems, such simplifications probably fail. In studying microscopic particles, modern science also usually can only observe one single particle. So whether the results can truly reveal the truth of the microscopic world is subject to doubt. The way that ancient Chinese science studied an object was to target it as a whole and undivided system. This approach might be able to provide a lot of unique insights on complex systems such as the human body, life and the universe. We can see a tiny part of this from the theories and practice of traditional Chinese medicine.

1. Mark J. Miller, Sindy H. Wei, Ian Parker, and Michael D. Cahalan Science 296: 1869-1873; Published online May 16, 2002; 10.1126/science.1070051

2. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/05/020517075129.htm

Add new comment