Fighting intracellular pathogens

Feb ,14 2017

One important aspect of the innate immune system is a group of biological molecules called interferon.

Whenever a pathogen, such as virus, bacteria and other intracellular parasites, manage to make their way into the cells of our bodies, the infected cell begins to produce a biological molecule known as interferon. There are many different kinds of interferon; alpha, beta, gamma, etc. divided in three types (I, II and III).

The surrounding environment of an infected cell is filled with interferon that will communicate with the healthy cells around them as also with the white blood cells in close proximity (macrophages and natural killer cells). Interferon molecules bind to the membrane of the healthy cells preparing them for that specific viral/pathogen infection. Healthy cells activated by interferon begin to produce certain types of proteins with antiviral/pathogen properties, rendering the pathogen useless or preventing the replication of the virus. When the pathogen eventually kills and lyses the infected cell, the former gets release and is able to infect cells in the surrounding environment. These cells though had already been warned by interferon molecules and were able to mount a defense against the pathogen. Also, these interferons were able to bind to specialized leucocytes guiding them to the infected cells, helping them to identify and kill infected cells. This interferon can also help macrophages identify and engulf infected cells. Another function of the interferon is to promote (in case the infected cell cannot be saved) cell death, forcing the infected cell to commit suicide (for example by breaking the lysosomes and releasing the hydrostatic environment into the cytoplasm of the infected cell ultimately killing it).

This is the method by which the innate nonspecific immune system of our body deals with intracellular pathogens as virus, bacteria, etc that infects our cells. By using these biological molecules that we call interferon the body is able to control, prevent and even fight these type of infections.