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Gimme a T! Gimme an NK! What’s that spell? Balance!

Posted Oct 09 2009 10:04pm

I hate to use a football analogies. But one really illustrates some new science that adds to the continually-building “ balance ” approach FootballFight to immune health. Sports stories are overdone, overused and probably don’t pertain to more than half of any general audience. But I’m at a loss as to how to really describe this scenario. So, forgive me and my lack of creativity today.

You know when a defensive back makes a great tackle? After the hit, the d-back might start taunting the guy he just tackled. Maybe even try to rough him up a bit more. Perhaps a couple of his teammates come over to join in. Then, before a good hit turns into a damaging penalty for the team, some level-headed teammates come over and pull the taunters away from the victim and move them back to the huddle or sideline. The tackler accomplished the mission, but was in “overkill” mode, yet was then buffered and deactivated by intervening friendly forces before something good could turn into something bad.

Some new research is now showing how two components of the the body’s immune system work the same way, that is, if there is balance in the immune system and not endless immune “boosting.”

Researchers and Brown University and McGill University in Canada have published new findings in the Journal of Experimental Medicine illustrating how the aggressive T-Cells in your immune biochemistry attack a virus, but are held back from overdoing it by “natural killer” cells (NK cells).

According to the lead author of the study in an interview, “‘The work reveals two important aspects of NK cell biology, the first piece being understanding how to keep NK cells instead of losing them,’ said (Christine) Biron, the Esther Elizabeth Brintzenhoff Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry (at Brown). ‘The second is that if you can keep them around, they have an important regulatory function to limit adaptive immune response. If you don’t have them during long challenges, your adaptive immune system response could go unregulated and lead to death.’”

Yeesh, that’s kind of heavy. But, still, it drives home the message of immune balance, and how it can contribute to long-term health. So keep those NK cells around so they can make sure the T-cells do their job but don’t but don’t get too jacked up and go into immune boosting overdrive. That’ll result in a lot more damage than a 15- yard penalty and a first down.

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