Study of sea squirt may help prevent rejection of transplanted organs

April 17th, 2011 - 11:28 am ICT by ANI  

Washington, April 17 (ANI): Scientists at UC Santa Barbara has indicated studies of the small sea squirt may ultimately help solve the problem of rejection of organ and bone marrow transplants in humans.

Scientists Anthony W. De Tomaso, assistant professor of biology at UCSB, delved into the cellular biology of immune responses. His studies of the sea squirt shed light on the complicated issue of organ rejection.

De Tomaso and his research team study Botryllus schlosseri, a type of sea squirt. This small organism — known as a tunicate because of its covering, or “tunic” — is a modern day descendant of the vertebrate ancestor, the group to which we belong. Tunicates begin life as swimming tadpoles with primitive backbones, nerves, and musculature that are similar to all vertebrates, but soon transform into stationary creatures. Tunicates latch onto intertidal surfaces and look like flat flowers — with each “petal” being a separate, but genetically identical, body.

De Tomaso focused on what happens when one sea squirt lands next to another. In this case, cells in the sea squirt’s fingerlike edges, or “ampullae,” recognize the neighboring sea squirt as “self” or “non-self.”

When the other sea squirt is related, then the two colonies fuse; otherwise, they reject each other. De Tomaso was involved in identifying the gene controlling the choice between fusion and rejection in the sea squirt when he was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University

In his current research, De Tomaso studied how the signals on the surface of the sea squirt’s cells get translated inside the circuitry of the cell, where the final decision about acceptance or rejection is made.

“In the case of Botryllus, what we found is that we have the same kind of integration that goes on in humans, but instead of having a multiple, very complex set of inputs coming in, we only have two,” said DeTomaso.

“We have also found that we can manipulate each one independently, so we know that somehow they are put together and the two inputs are integrated, and a decision is made about how to respond,” added DeTomaso.

De Tomaso explained that he decided to work on Botryllus because it has a unique way to answer a very complicated question. He hopes to understand the process of rejection or acceptance.

The study has been published in the journal Immunity. (ANI)

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