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DISCOVERIES

8 INSIDE SALK

SPRING 2017

WWW.SALK.EDU

IMMUNOLOGY

Salk Institute scientists discovered how immune receptors use a protein called ZAP70 to amplify

“invader” signals and attack a biological intruder. Single molecule tracks of ZAP70 overlaid with

T cell receptor microclusters show signal transfer at early moments of T cell activation.

When a receptor on the surface of a

T cell—a sentry of the human immune

system—senses a single particle from a

harmful intruder, it immediately kicks the

cell into action, launching a larger immune

response. But exactly how the signal from

a single receptor, among thousands on

each T cell, can be amplified to affect a

whole cell has puzzled immunologists for

decades. Salk Associate Professor Björn

Lillemeier, first author Zachary Katz and

colleagues discovered the key to the

amplification of an “invader” signal: the

T cell receptor that detects the intruder

turns into a mini-machine, activating

and releasing copy after copy of a protein

called ZAP70. The finding, published in

Nature Immunology

on November 21, 2016,

could help scientists design better immune-

mediated treatments for cancer or

autoimmune diseases.

IMMUNE RECEPTORS AMPLIFY “INVADER” SIGNALS

BY TURNING INTO MINI-MACHINES