Friday Feature: Calling for help

July 9, 2010 § 1 Comment

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This amazing movie, from Niethammer P, Grabher C, Look AT, Mitchison TJ. 2009 A tissue-scale gradient of hydrogen peroxide mediates rapid wound detection in zebrafish. Nature 459 996-9 PMCID: PMC2803098, shows leukocytes (the white blobs) rushing to the site of a wound in response to a hydrogen peroxide signal (fluorescence in upper panel).

We’ve known for a while that leukocytes rapidly (within minutes) home to the sites of wounds.  What hasn’t been clear is what signal attracts them.  We’ve also known for a while that hydrogen peroxide is generated in wound sites: but until now, the general belief has been that it comes from the leukocytes that are attracted into the wound.  Hydrogen peroxide has a role in killing bacteria, at least under some conditions, and so this all seemed to make sense.  Until this movie.  You can’t really tell by eye, but the quantitative analysis clearly shows that the hydrogen peroxide production starts before the first leukocyte arrives.  In fact, the timing is such that it seems very plausible that it is the hydrogen peroxide that calls in the leukocytes: soon after the hydrogen peroxide reaches the nearest blood vessel, you start seeing purposeful leukocytes making tracks towards the wound.

Is the hydrogen peroxide gradient we see causal, or is it a byproduct of something else? There are five enzymes in the zebrafish genome that can produce hydrogen peroxide, directly or indirectly (four NADPH oxidases (Nox-1, -2, -4 and -5), and Dual Oxidase, abbreviated Duox).  Niethammer et al. showed that small molecule inhibitors that inhibit all 5 enzymes prevented the hydrogen peroxide gradient from forming in response to a wound, and also strongly reduced leukocyte recruitment to the wound.  Using antisense morpholinos and quantitative PCR, they then narrowed down which of the five possible enzymes could be responsible: none of the Nox enzymes seems to be involved, but knocking out Duox blocked both gradient formation and leukocyte recruitment.  Problem solved: the leukocyte recruitment signal has been discovered!

Well — there may still be more to the story.

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