Superweapon IgE antibody so deadly it destroys its factory

White blood cells producing the powerful IgE antibody soon stop moving and die, researchers at the CNRS, INSERM, and University of Limoges have found. IgE is produced in tiny amounts, protecting against poisons and parasites, but can also damage the body causing a huge immune reaction like asthma. Researchers speculate the death of the IgE factory cell, B cells, helps keeps the amount of IgE down in the body.

IgM B lymphocyte showing pseudopods (left), while IgE B lymphocytes do not (mid, right). Photo credit: CNRS Laboratoire Contrôle de la Réponse Immune B et Lymphoproliférations

IgM B cell showing pseudopods (left), while IgE B cells do not (mid, right). Photo credit: CNRS Laboratoire Contrôle de la Réponse Immune B et Lymphoproliférations

B cells (also known as B lymphocytes) are the cells of the immune system and they produce a range of antibody types that protect against disease. IgM, IgG, and IgA are always present in large numbers and allow our bodies to “remember” past infections. In contrast, IgE is 100,000 times less plentiful in the body and have not been as well-studied as the other three types.

In their study, published online in Cell Reports, the researchers attempted to force B lymphocytes to over-produce IgE. They discovered that once IgE is produced on the cell surface, the once mobile B cell stops in its tracks and stays put, swelling and losing its “legs” – the pseudopod features sticking out from the cell surface. The cell then self-destructed by initiating the cell-death pathway known as apoptosis.

The net result of the cell’s efforts was a reduction in the amount of IgE produced. Scientists working on the project believe this allows the cell to produce enough IgE to have a shot-lived role in attacking toxins and poisons, but not be produced in the high quantities that would cause an allergic reaction. Future work will focus on the mechanisms and molecular pathways of this self-destruction, and are hoping to find new ways of treating allergies and lymphomas.

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Dr David Kirk
Dr David Kirk is a science communicator and researcher with biotech start-up CHAIN Biotechnology Ltd in Nottingham, UK. He works on the microbial engineering of Clostridia for high-value chiral chemical synthesis. He completed his PhD in 2015 on bacterial spore formation at the University of Helsinki, Finland. He plays badminton (poorly) and maintains a blog on science news and synthetic biology: His views are his own. Twitter: @DrDaveKirk Blog: Research:

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