Your immune system's mast cells react to allergens, giving you the runny nose and itchy eyes. But new research has uncovered another role for mast cells.
Mast cells seem to be important defenders against viruses and bacteria.
The immune system's mast cells produce beta-interferon when faced with a viral infection. On the other hand, beta-interferon won't work on bacteria. Mast cells seem to know this because when confronted with bacteria, they don't bother producing beta-interferon.
"The researchers found the reason for why mast cells do not produce beta-interferon during bacterial infections in the defence line that follows mast cells: 'Beta-interferon inhibits precisely those cells that quickly eliminate invading bacteria,' says Nicole Dietrich. Thus, mast cells determine very early which direction the immune defence is taking."
When a pathogen appears on the scene, the immune system's mast cells are activated to produce the right substance to deal with the pathogen, and to control the immune system's response. The complexity of the healthy immune system is only just beginning to be understood. This latest research suggests that each action taken by every part of a healthy immune system can dictate precisely what the next step should be.