Tiny DNA nets to catch bacteria


Some immune cells use their own DNA as a last line of defence against pathogens.


Caught in the NET: a neutrophil extracellur trap at work.
Caught in the NET: a neutrophil extracellur trap at work.
Volker Brinkmann

Blood teems with wonders. The image above shows some of its lesser-known denizens in action.

When a certain kind of immune cells, known as neutrophils, are faced with a threatening pathogen they cannot overcome by their usual tactic of engulfment, they hurl out their own DNA as a molecular net in a last-ditch attempt to trap the invader. These DNA snares are called neutrophil extracellular traps, or NETs.

Here, Shigella flexneri bacteria – which can cause diarrhoea – are shown trapped in a NET. The meshlike structure of the NET can be seen between two intact neutrophils.

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