When a fungus invades the lungs, immune cells can tell it to self-destruct | Science News

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When a fungus invades the lungs, immune cells can tell it to self-destruct

Mouse study points to why breathing in spores from one mold species doesn’t usually cause health problems

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5:01pm, September 7, 2017
a common fungus, Aspergillus fumigatus

FUNGUS AMONG US  Aspergillus fumigatus (shown) is a common fungus found in soil. New immunology research is helping explain why the organism can make immunocompromised people so sick, while going undetected by healthy people.

Immune cells can turn certain invaders on themselves, forcing them to prematurely self-destruct, researchers have discovered.

In mice, when white blood cells in the lungs engulf spores of a common airborne fungus, these immune cells release an enzyme that sends the fungal cells into programmed cell death. That prevents the spores from setting up shop in the lungs and sparking a potentially deadly lung infection, the researchers report in the Sept. 8 Science.

Found naturally in soil and decaying organic matter, the fungus, Aspergillus fumigatus, releases airborne spores that are found in small doses in the air people breathe every day. The finding may help explain why most people can regularly inhale the spores and not get sick. In people with weakened immune systems, though, this natural defense system doesn’t work. This research could eventually lead to better treatments

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