How white blood cells detect, destroy invaders

Receptor Dectin-1 detects fungi and instructs WBCs whether to devour invading pathogens or not.

Updated: May 01, 2011, 14:48 PM IST

Washington: Scientists have identified a molecular receptor on the surface of white blood cells (WBCs) that is instrumental in destroying invading fungi.
The receptor Dectin-1 detects fungi and instructs WBCs whether to devour the invading pathogens or not, says David Underhill, associate professor in immunobiology at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles.

The study is important because it moves scientists one step closer to understanding the mysteries of how our bodies mount an immune response to fight disease, reports the journal Nature.

In early stages of infection, WBCs patrol the body looking for invading pathogens. Dectin-1 recognises specific components of fungal cell walls, and alerts or "switches on" the immune cells to prepare to fight the infection, according to a Cedars-Sinai statement.

"Our lab has been studying Dectin-1, which directs white blood cells to eat and kill the fungi that they encounter directly, but to ignore soluble material sloughed off the fungal surface which does not pose an immediate threat," study co-author Helen Goodridge said.

"This is important because...anti-microbial defence responses are energy-intensive and destructive, and should only be used when absolutely necessary," Goodridge added.