Cells do not exist in isolation but in association with one another within tissues, in organs, and within bodily fluids. At the 2017 ASCB|EMBO Meeting, the Symposium on Cell Interactions will address some of the ways cells communicate, influence each other, and impact their surroundings over the course of their lifespans.

Valentina Greco, from the Yale University School of Medicine, will share her insights on the role of stem cells in organ regeneration. She will present the talk “Capturing Principles of Tissue Dynamics and Function by Live Imaging.” Through her work, Greco is discovering that rapid and dynamic turnover of stem cells within adult tissue happens in a coordinated and orchestrated way based on the cues that cells in close proximity to one another give to either divide or differentiate.

Confocal microscope immunofluorescent image of murine epidermis

“We have developed a novel live tracking strategy that allowed recording of every division and differentiation event within a region of epidermis for a week, in collaboration with Allon Klein (Harvard),” Greco said. “These measurements reveal that stem cell fates are not autonomous. Rather, direct neighbors undergo coupled opposite fate decisions.…These findings of lead authors Kai Mesa, Kyogo Kawaguchi, and Katie Cockburn establish differentiation-dependent division as a core feature of homeostatic control, and define the relevant time and length scales over which homeostasis is enforced in epithelial tissues.”

While the cellular interactions that Greco describes involve cells signaling to one another to achieve optimal function and repair of tissues, some cell interactions are deadly. Gillian Griffiths, Director of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research in the United Kingdom, will present the talk “Polarized Secretion and Frustrated Ciliogenesis: The Cell Biology of Serial Killer Cells.”

“Inside all of us lurks an army of serial killers whose primary function is to kill again and again,” Griffith has said in a video on the topic. “These cells patrol our bodies, identifying and destroying virally infected and cancer cells, and they do so with remarkable precision and efficiency.”

Griffiths’ work is helping to elucidate the mechanisms that control polarized secretion from cytotoxic T lymphocytes and natural killer cells. Using cutting-edge imaging and molecular, genetic, and biochemical techniques, her lab is identifying the proteins required for polarized secretion and discovering how they work. With a better understanding of these processes, Griffiths said, “we can develop ways to control the ‘killer’ cells of the immune system. This will allow us to find ways to improve cancer therapies, and ameliorate autoimmune diseases caused when killer cells run amok and attack healthy cells in our bodies.”

The Symposium on Cell Interactions will be held Monday, December 4, at 9:45 am.

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Mary Spiro

Mary Spiro is ASCB's Science Writer and Social Media Manager. She has a master's degree in Biotechnology from Johns Hopkins University and bachelor's degrees in both Agronomy and Journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park. She can be reached at mspiro@ascb.org