The immune synapse clears and excludes molecules above a size threshold

Adam N R Cartwright, Jeremy Griggs, Daniel M Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Natural killer cells assess target cell health via interactions at the immune synapse (IS) that facilitates signal integration and directed secretion. Here we test whether the IS also functions as a gasket. Quantitative fluorescence microscopy of nanometer-scale dextrans within synapses formed by various effector-target cell conjugates reveal that molecules are excluded in a size-dependent manner at activating synapses. Dextran sized ≤4 nm move in and out of the IS, but access is significantly reduced (by >50%) for dextran sized 10-13 nm, and dextran ≥32 nm is almost entirely excluded. Depolymerization of F-actin abrogated exclusion. Unexpectedly, larger-sized dextrans are cleared as the IS assembles in a zipper-like manner. Monoclonal antibodies are also excluded from the IS but smaller single-domain antibodies are able to penetrate. Therefore, the IS can clear and exclude molecules above a size threshold, and drugs designed to target synaptic cytokines or cytotoxic proteins must fit these dimensions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5479
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2014

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Lydia Becker Institute
  • Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing


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