When we talk about ‘cellular communcations’, we are not referring to use of a cell phone, because before mobiles or cell phones there was a time when this only meant cell to cell interaction within an organ or tissue. This important cellular behaviour drives diverse functions from contracting cells in your heart muscle to the cells in your nerves.
We can visualise these fascinating events in the laboratory ex vivo (in cells outside of a living body). For example heart muscle cells that are kept alive can be cultured in a petri dish. A stimulant introduced into a single cell causes that cell to contract. This stimulates the adjacent cell to contract, and so on, mimicking the heartbeat. This can be seen microscopically and contributes to our better understanding of the function of this important tissue.
Similarly, action potentials in nervous tissue can be measured and studied by subjecting ultra-thin sections of tissue to chemical modulators in solution. Sensitive equipment detects the release of neurotransmitters from neurons in the tissue slice and complex algorithms translate this effect into an audible thump. It’s really amazing to hear this happening in the lab, these are very elegant experiments indeed.
A different kind of communication is seen in the immune system, where antigen-presenting cells identify foreign bodies, such as bacteria, and ‘show’ them to the T lymphocyte cells which effect an immune response. Where this system is compromised or overwhelmed, an infection can set in, for example pneumonia, which requires a trip to the doctor for antibiotics.
And who said biology was just a pretty face?