Sunday, 17 February 2013

T-Cell Receptors, Part Zero: The introduction (to the introduction)

I sat down this weekend with the idea to write a short blog piece about cells other than T-cells that seem to express T-cell receptors (TCRs), as it's a bit of a background-reading interest for me, and other people might find it interesting too. I was genuinely aiming at maybe five or six paragraphs, quickly skimming over my favourite examples.

As I went along I realised that, despite having made frequent reference to them, I've never explained exactly what a TCR is in this blog. While I expect anyone finding their way here probably either has pretty good background immunology knowledge, or the means to find out on their own, it is something I've been meaning to get around to.

So I started drafting a little introduction to TCRs themselves, which reminded me that I also meant to write a little history of TCR discovery sooner or later, as it's sometimes nice to learn how it is we came to know the stuff that modern immunology now takes as a given.

As it stands now I haven't even finished the original topic I started out on, and the document's getting a bit unwieldy, so I'm going to break it up into (hopefully) more digestable chunks and release them one a day over the course of the next week until either they run out or my fingers fall off...

A little note for the following pages that probably applies to the rest of my blog as well; I'm writing these on the assumption that people reading them either have a little knowledge of the topics I'm talking about, or an intention of getting some.

I may drift into jargon (which makes all the 'science engagement' people cry tears of blood) but as I'm dealing with the actual technical science this is pretty much unavoidable. We have a lot of specific words to describe esoteric things because the devil is in the details, which science has a lot of. Plus I find this  movement to use 'non-scientific' language a bit paternalistic; the assumption that complicated words excludes everyone else is pretty insulting - people are clever things, and if they're interested they'll look things up. That said, if there is a word or concept that you don't think I've explained well and can't find out on your own, why not ask me in a comment or a tweet and I'll try an clarify.

As I go I try to include links to the original publications, some of which I'm afraid are behind pay-walls; unfortunately as I access a lot of this material at one academic institution or another I usually forget to note which, so it's a bit of a mixed bag. If there are any interested non-scientists reading this, and you find a paper you'd like to read that you can't access, the best thing to try is to email the authors, they're usually keen to share their work.

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