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The parallels between the immune system of the tunicates and that of the human being, could shed light on the rejection of the transplanted organs, in addition to giving clues about new treatments against cancer.
The tunicate is a little known marine creature so far. These animals correspond to the living relatives closest to the vertebrates; however, the two evolutionary lines separated about 500 million years ago.
Even so, a team of researchers has discovered that the immune system of the tunicate has great similarities with the immune system of the human being. This finding could have important implications on the approach to the rejection of organ transplants , and even in cancer treatments.
The immune system of this marine creature resembles that of the human being
The tunicates are small tube-shaped animals, barely 3 millimeters long, that live in the sea. In general, they are grouped on rocks in the form of colonies, in addition to other surfaces under the sea, where they open like the petals of a flower.
When a colony of tunicates comes in contact with another, both colonies must decide if they fight to the death or merge. This depends on whether both colonies have the same version of a specific protein. If not, both colonies will embark on a fight to the death.
In this case, the cells of the colonies begin to attack, developing a battle similar to what happens with the immune system of the human being when it rejects a transplanted organ. In order to unveil the workings of these struggles, a team of researchers isolated 34 types of cells from these marine creatures.
In this way, it was discovered that some cells of the tunicates activate the same genes that are activated in the hematopoietic stem cells of the human being. These cells have the function of generating new cells of the immune system in humans. Thus, just like the human hematopoietic stem cells, those of the tunicates divide and specialize in different kinds of cells.
Additionally, the tunicates have three types of cells similar to the macrophages of the human being. Macrophages have the function of ingesting foreign bodies that enter the body, such as bacteria and some waste substances from tissues. In the same line, the tunicates have immune cells equivalent to the natural killers present in the immune system of the human being.
These parallels could help discover new ways to avoid rejection of transplanted organs
By way of synthesis, although the organism of the tunicates may seem quite simple, when analyzed closely a series of complex mechanisms similar to the human immune system are observed. In this sense, parallels were found in the cell specialization process of the cells that correspond to the immune system of the tunicates and of the human being.
In this regard, researchers suggest that this overlap could have its origin in a common ancestor, 500 million years ago. Taking this into account, new research is considered taking into account other invertebrates, such as the sea urchin, in order to determine at what point in the evolutionary history these mechanisms were developed.
Finally, the scientists suggest that by analyzing the genes that are activated in the immune system of the tunicates, in comparison with humans, it could help to identify the genes that stimulate the rejection of an organ after a transplant. In addition, new strategies to combat cancer may emerge from this line of research.