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Eur J Immunol. 2007 Nov;37 Suppl 1:S18-33.

Seeing is believing: a focus on the contribution of microscopic imaging to our understanding of immune system function.

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Lymphocyte Biology Section, Laboratory of Immunology, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-1892, USA.


Many cells of the immune system do not occupy fixed tissue locations, but circulate in the blood, traffic through the lymph, and migrate within organized lymphoid organs and periphery tissues. Rare antigen-specific lymphocytes must find one another for productive adaptive immune responses and the different phases of cell-mediated and humoral immune response development take place in distinct sites. This historical feature examines how we have reached our current understanding of these aspects of immune system function. It emphasizes the critical role of ever-improving imaging techniques in determining where immune cells reside and interact and stresses the key past contribution of sequential static immunohistochemical analysis using monoclonal reagents. In combination with genetic studies, these imaging experiments resulted in our current paradigm that views activation-dependent changes in chemokine sensitivity as central to effective cell co-operation. We also highlight the very recent application of two-photon imaging to the direct observation of immune cell dynamics in a natural tissue environment, noting how the application of this technology has reinforced some existing ideas and is changing other long-held views. We conclude with some speculations about the opportunities for further advances using ever more powerful imaging methods.

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