Ordered Just So: Lipid Rafts and Lymphocyte Function

Science's STKE  05 Mar 2002:
Vol. 2002, Issue 122, pp. re2
DOI: 10.1126/stke.2002.122.re2

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Cell biologists have long been occupied with the study of how cells respond to their environment. Cells sense changes in their environment through specialized proteins, called receptors, that are embedded in the cell membrane. When these receptors sense an environmental change, they stimulate a program of biochemical responses (signaling events) inside the cell that may culminate in changes in gene expression, metabolic state, or cell division. These signaling events are carried out by the recruitment and activity of other proteins inside the cell. Until recently, the cell membrane was not thought to play a very important role in these response programs; instead, it was considered to exist solely as a barrier between the interior and the exterior of the cell. However, that assessment changed as researchers realized that the cell membrane contains specialized regions, called lipid rafts, that help organize the signaling events initiated by receptors. T cells and B cells are cells of the immune system that respond to the presence of pathogens in the body through the stimulation of specialized receptors. The T cell receptor (TCR) on T cells and B cell receptor (BCR) on B cells activate similar response programs when they are triggered. Several lines of evidence indicate that the signaling events stimulated by both the TCR and the BCR take place in and around lipid rafts. Here, we review the analogous response programs initiated by TCR and BCR signaling, the ways in which these responses are coordinated in and around lipid rafts, and some ways in which pathogens hijack lipid rafts for their own purposes.