Science News

The Fever That Came in From The Cold

Sun, 19th Nov 2006

Part of the show Science in Antarctica

"Feed a cold and starve a fever", stated the doctors of yester-year, possibly wrongly, but now there's proof that running a temperature really does help the body to fight off infections. A paper in this month's edition of the journal Nature Immunology from Sharon Evans and her team at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York shows that, as well as making it more difficult for bacteria to multiply, an elevated body temperature also acts to rally bug-battling white blood cells called lymphocytes. The researchers found that when the body runs a fever, cells lining the blood vessels supplying the lymph glands start to produce large numbers of sticky molecules, called ICAM and CCL21, which act like molecular grappling hooks to snare passing white blood cells and drag them into the lymph node. Once inside, antigen presenting cells recruit and stimulate lymphocytes capable of tackling the culprit infection. The team carried out the work in experimental mice which were kept in hotter than normal conditions (39.5 C, 2.6 degrees above their normal body temperature). This had the effect of doubling the numbers of lymphocytes which entered lymph nodes around the body. So perhaps reaching to the pill packet next time you're running a temperature might not be such a good idea...

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