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Salt in the wound

Science and mystery often go hand in hand, and this is a perfect example: when you have a skin infection, you tend to have more salt in the infected skin. But why is that? Well, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The salt is probably doing something in regards to immune response, and it’s possible that how much salt you eat could also play a role. Resist the urge to skip to the end of this mystery -- the buildup is worth it.

Study under review: Cutaneous Na+ storage strengthens the antimicrobial barrier function of the skin and boosts macrophage-driven host defense


Our bodies are like walled cities. Many microorganisms live on and within us, happily coexisting and even contributing to our well-being. However, invading harmful microorganisms need to be kept out. We have several layers of defense in order to keep out marauding invaders. These include defensive physical barriers, such as the skin, as well as weaponized troops manning the parapets: our immune system, which can be subdivided into the innate and the adaptive immune systems.

The innate immune system initiates rapid, albeit nonspecific, responses to intruders. It is the front-line defense against foreign invasion. The process of inflammation is the primary component of the innate immune system. The adaptive system develops specific antibodies that recognize specific foreign invaders with amazing sensitivity and long-lasting protection. These antibodies are developed through a complicated iterative process and are continually screened and selected for pathogen specificity, which results in a type of defense that is not as immediate as that provided by the innate immunity.

The study under review describes an entirely new mechanism through which the innate immune system can ward off infections. This is a rare occurrence. If the data can be reproduced, this mechanism is undoubtedly something that will find its way into immunology textbooks in the near future. The size of the team (28 scientists) and the number of affiliations (14) that contributed to the study alone speaks volumes about the breadth of the work involved. While this research is sophisticated, one of the main players in this study is something we’re all familiar with: sodium.

The body defends itself against foreign invaders through the use of physical barriers as well as the innate and adaptive immune system. A new mechanism of the innate immune system involving sodium ions was recently described in the paper under review.

Who and what was studied and what were the findings?

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Other Articles in Issue #10 (August 2015)

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