Smart structures: Structural cells of the body control immune function
The human body is often seen as a “machine” that consists of specialized components: Bones and soft tissue provide structure, organs contribute physiological functions, and immune cells protect against pathogens. In reality, many cell types and organs may play more than one role. Researchers at CeMM, the Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, have now discovered a striking example of multi-tasking cells. In a paper published in the scientific journal Nature, CeMM researchers analyzed the epigenetic and transcriptional regulation in structural cells, including epithelium, endothelium, and fibroblasts. They found widespread activity of immune genes, suggesting that structural cells are deeply involved in the body’s response to pathogens. Moreover, the study uncovered an “epigenetic potential” that pre-programs structural cells to engage in the immune response against pathogens. These findings highlight an underappreciated part of the immune system and open up an exciting area for research and future therapies.