Natural killer cells have a memory.

Researchers at the University of Bonn and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität of Munich hold decoded a new mechanism of in what way the immune system can specifically make a run at pigmented cells of the skin. It was antecedently believed that so-called natural killer cells did not bear an immunological memory for the material substance’s own tissues. However, the scientists esteem now been able to show that these peculiar immune cells can indeed “remember” pigmented cells while they come into more frequent junction with a specific contact allergen. These results may bargain new insights into the development of the skin-depigmenting infirmity vitiligo but may also offer modern options for the treatment of bitter melanoma. These results have now been published in the philosophical journal Immunity.


Pigmented cells of the pelt are crucial as a protective ward off against UV-radiation. An often-desired suntan be able to only form with the aid of the enzyme tyrosinase interior part these pigmented cells. The more exposure to sunshine, the more pigments are formed by this enzyme. The compound monobenzone can specifically block tyrosinase and thereby trigger a weight reaction. As a result, the immune plan attacks the affected pigmented cells. A resort to ~ly consequence is vitiligo, which leads to emulsive-white unpigmented areas on the skin.

Scientific studies have shown that tribe with vitiligo are at lower put to hazard of developing malignant melanoma. A potential method for treating this type of cancer could lead to actively triggering vitiligo with the tyrosinase blocker monobenzone. “The archetype is to use a less sober disease as a weapon against virulent melanoma,” says Dr. Jasper van place of resort Boorn from the Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Pharmacology of the University of Bonn, who beforehand researched this connection in his doctoral dissertation at the University of Amsterdam and demonstrated the organic feasibility of this option.

Contact allergen mouldiness first be “activated”

“However, the at the head mechanism by which the immune hypothesis identifies the monobenzone-exposed pigmented cells like dangerous, before attacking them, has been unclear thus far,” reports Prof. Dr. Veit Hornung, who newly moved from the University of Bonn to the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. It is known that monobenzone has a contact-sensitizing effect on pigmented skin: In source, this substance alone is inactive. Only at the time that monobenzone docks onto the tyrosinase enzyme, a in the way that-called hapten is generated in the pigmented solitary abode; squalid. This is a newly formed “extraneous structure” that can specifically activate the immune plan. By applying low doses of monobenzone divers times in succession on the rodents’ skin the researchers explored this path in describe on mice.

The way in what one. the animals’ immune defense reacted to this hapten amazed the researchers. “Normally the immune connected view mobilizes a mixture of various white blood cells to attack hapten-exposed tissues,” reports Dr. covered wagon den Boorn. “However, the multiple monobenzone exposures induced single natural killer cells to recognize and fly at the pigmented cells.” Natural killer cells are component of the innate immune system and kill abnormal cells — such as cancer cells or poison -infected cells. Previously, scientists believed that they did not consider the capacity to remember and specifically set upon the body’s own tissues. Up to at that time, this phenomenon has only been attributed to T and B lymphocytes.

“However, our results clearly proclaim that natural killer cells can too carry out a long-lasting and sufficient immune reaction against the body’s recognize pigmented cells, including malignant melanoma cells,” says Prof. Dr. Gunther Hartmann, Director of the Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Pharmacology of the University of Bonn. The researchers established this through studying mice that were not adroit to form any functional T and B lymphocytes. Nonetheless, happy spots still developed in the animals’ fur, and antecedently transferred malignant melanoma cells were destroyed, since the mice’s natural killer cells remembered and attacked the pigmented cells.

The NLRP3 inflammasome serves during the time that a checkpoint

In order for this immune replication to occur, an immune-checkpoint had to give the green light first: the NLRP3 inflammasome. “This is a protein composite that integrates multiple pieces of signaling intelligence in macrophages, special phagocytes that reside in tissues. Once switched on, macrophages in that case decide whether immune cells including native killer cells receive their marching orders,” explains Prof. Dr. Veit Hornung. If the researchers incapacitated this checkpoint, the monobenzone-induced tyrosinase hapten did not trigger the desired immune reverse action anymore.

The results may open up unused therapeutic avenues for the treatment of malicious melanoma, demonstrate a new type of immune memory and could even shed new apply the match to onto the incipient events causing the expansion of vitiligo.


Jasper G. van den Boorn, Christopher Jakobs, Christian Hagen, Marcel Renn, Rosalie M. Luiten, Cornelis J.M. Melief, Thomas Tüting, Natalio Garbi, Gunther Hartmann, Veit Hornung. Inflammasome-Dependent Induction of Adaptive NK Cell Memory. Immunity, 2016; DOI:10.1016/j.immuni.2016.05.008

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