14 January 2008

Cell Kiss

Does anyone remember - boys, I defy you to forget it - the scene in Cruel Intentions where Sarah Michelle Gellar gives Selma Blair a few pointers on the subject of French kissing? The audience sees a visible string of saliva connecting their lips after the kiss. (You can just about see it starting to form here - lovely).

The reason I ask is because I just read something that reminded me very much of this scene. It turns out there are cells in our bodies - come on, bear with me - that, when they bump into each other, become connected by a line of cell spittle. Just like a cell kiss.

Except of course, it's not spit at all, it's made from a sort of membrane called a nanotube. I prefer spittle. And if you're losing interest at this point, perhaps start thinking about these cells as Sarah and Selma.

What's quite interesting though, is that this "spittle", which the cells use to communicate between themselves, might allow the HIV virus to move more quickly between T cells. These are the immune cells under attack from the virus in HIV patients - the ones doctors keep tabs on to see how far the disease has progressed. In the lab, HIV sends its proteins sliding along the interconnecting strings between infected and healthy cells.

So you see, you can't spread HIV by kissing, and neither can Sarah and Selma, but your T cells might be able to. Huh.

(I've probably lost most of you to You Tube at this point, where you're all hastily searching out snippets of the legendary lesbian spit fest. But still.)

More importantly, however, if this turns out to be the case in the body as well as in the dish, it could mean a new focus for researchers trying to develop treatments. Stop spitting, stop AIDS. Kind of.

Image: I may or may not have stolen it from World of Pop. But I'm pretty sure they didn't pay for it either.


Anonymous said...

This is the most inspired piece of science communication I've seen in a while. The topic seemed so... er... vivid.

Hayley said...

Cheers Ed. But don't pretend you weren't drawn in by the picture.