How the Immune System Talks to Itself: The Varied Role of Synapses

Immunol Rev. 2013 Jan;251(1):65-79. doi: 10.1111/imr.12017.


Using an elaborately evolved language of cytokines and chemokines as well as cell-cell interactions, the different components of the immune system communicate with each other and orchestrate a response (or wind one down). Immunological synapses are a key feature of the system in the ways in which they can facilitate and direct these responses. Studies analyzing the structure of an immune synapse as it forms between two cells have provided insight into how the stability and kinetics of this interaction ultimately affect the sensitivity, potency, and magnitude of a given response. Furthermore, we have gained an appreciation of how the immunological synapse provides directionality and contextual cues for downstream signaling and cellular decision-making. In this review, we discuss how using a variety of techniques, developed over the last decade, have allowed us to visualize and quantify key aspects of the dynamic synaptic interface and have furthered our understanding of their function. We describe some of the many characteristics of the immunological synapse that make it a vital part of intercellular communication and some of the questions that remain to be answered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication*
  • Humans
  • Immune System*
  • Immunologic Techniques / methods
  • Immunologic Techniques / trends
  • Immunological Synapses / immunology*
  • Protein Binding / immunology
  • Receptor Cross-Talk / immunology
  • Signal Transduction / immunology