Professor and student in lab

Understanding Neutrophil Decision-Making: How Immune Cells Prioritize Competing Signals

By switching off lower-priority receptors, the cells concentrate on higher-priority threats like infection

Neutrophils, the primary foot soldiers of the immune system, swarm to sites of infection and inflammation by following breadcrumb pathways made up of signaling molecules. But the human body is a complex place, and neutrophils are often simultaneously bombarded with multiple signals, some of which are more important than others. 

So how do neutrophils prioritize where to swarm when faced with competing calls to action? A new study from researchers in College of Biological Sciences shows that one way that neutrophils achieve prioritization is by switching off responses to lower-priority signals while sustaining responses to high-priority signals. The study was published Oct. 3 in the journal Science Signaling.

“This prioritization allows neutrophils to zero-in on the right target,” said Sean Collins, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and senior author on the paper. “This mechanism creates a way for high-priority signals to overpower lower-priority signals while still allowing those signals to work if they're the only signal present,” said Collins.”

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