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The not-so-dispensable spleen

Overlooked organ harbors immune cells, serving a greater purpose than thought, new study finds

By
2:08pm, July 30, 2009

It’s high time somebody said something nice about the lowly spleen. The much-maligned organ serves as a holding tank for ready-to-go immune agents called monocytes, a new study finds. These simple cells are first responders to trouble sites in the body, and the spleen is their main dispatcher, researchers report in the July 31 Science.

While it’s true that people can survive without a spleen, the organ is far from worthless. It recycles iron from old red blood cells, houses fresh blood cells, synthesizes antibodies and acts as a chamber in which pathogens are killed.

In the new study, scientists add to this list of duties, showing that the spleen stores monocytes in compartments close to mainstream blood vessels. This allows monocytes to travel to trauma and infection sites on short notice, says study coauthor Mikael Pittet, an immunologist at HarvardMedicalSchool in Boston. “Timing is a really important issue when you

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