So, I might be a little rusty. I haven’t blogged for myself in a while. My last blog was a sensationalized and very public diary of the rather sordid goings-on of my undergrad days in a very snowy, very Midwestern city– but none of that is of any consequence. Those who peopled those stories have now found spin-offs and supporting roles elsewhere. This blog is not about them. This blog is not even about me. Well, it is, but this blog is about me and the adaptive immune system, me and graduate school, and T-cells. There will always be T-cells.
Now, immunology and I: we go way back. Think 9th grade. Or was it the eighth? Who knows anymore? But, I remember making a series of holes in the worn cloth of my pencil-case imagining that the “ancient proteins that punched holes in bacteria” operated on a similar principle. There were also cells: T-cells killed, B-cells made antibodies, macrophages pigged out like jocks during football season while neutrophils, like extras from “The Devil Wears Prada” sleekly extravasated where damage control was needed. For me, that might have been the first time I wondered how? That a lot of that wasn’t quite known at the time was also exhilarating. But, I had med-school dreams: the mysteries of the immune system, esoteric as they were, were someone else’s problem.
It was during my undergrad, however, that immunology and I met again. Both of us were older: immunology, suffuse with brand-new cytokines and transcription factors, and I awash in discovering how wonderful it was to have an open mind. Under the tutelage of a Bright Young Thing of the immunology firmament, I began to rediscover the hows that were not known when I was a ninth grader. Sound as those unknowns were, they led to newer questions. There were worlds to discover within!
What attracted me to T-cell biology more than anything else was the sense of precision, control and extroversion (if you will!) that T-cells inherently posses. In my mind, CD4+ T-cells would receive antigens (only peptides, linearised, of a precise amino-acid length and loaded onto the right kind of MHC molecule, thanks) like aristocrats languidly snatching up a letter from a tray. If the contents of the letter were of importance, these cells would snap to action: proliferate and home to the site where they were needed to direct traffic, all the while secreting cytokines with abandon, like mass texts announcing a rager of a party, recruiting more of their own and sending messages of intent or disfavour to other cells. All of them, united towards a common goal of eliminating a threat or, in more misguided cases, the self. The immune response, in the best and the worst cases, is a grandiose production, a symphony of activated cells whose cytosols, like metropolitan roads at rush hour, are inundated with proteins passing phosphoryl groups from one to the other, all the way down to the nucleus…and there are so many of these cells, their orchestrations under masterful control by CD4+ T-cells. I am breathless thinking about it.
And so, this is the idea behind the blog: to articulate the awe I feel about adaptive cells and the cells that are intermediaries in the “Upstairs/Downstairs” situation that exists between the innate and the adaptive arms of the immune system. As I talk to you, constant reader, I myself understand more, and everybody wins!
Take care now,