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Platelets help kill bacteria, too

The clotting of blood, crucial to wound healing, is carried out by cell fragments called platelets. This is the most established function of platelets, but studies in recent years have begun to hint that platelets may have other important roles in our immune system — like fighting infection.

Now, scientists from the University of Calgary, Canada, seem to have observed proof of this in a study published this week in Nature Immunology. Paul Kubes and his team have identified a new surveillance mechanism in the liver of mice involving platelets.

They noticed that platelets, while sailing across the blood stream in the liver of mice, were making frequent short-lived “touch-and-go” interactions with specialized immune cells called Kupffer cells. Kupffer cells are located in the liver and protect us from infection by capturing and eventually killing bacteria that pass by.

It seemed that this touch-and-go mechanism was how platelets were scanning for captured bacteria. “It is like a security guard going from door to door making sure there are no thieves. If there are none the security guard leaves,” explained Kubes via email to this correspondent.

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