Immunologists thought they knew the main players in our immune system. But they have become convinced that temporary immune command posts erected by the body, called tertiary lymphoid structures (TLS) or tertiary lymphoid organs, are far more important to the body's defenses than previously realized. These organized congregations of immune tissue can sprout at sites of inflammation or infection almost anywhere in the body. They appear to instigate immune system counterattacks against pathogens and tumors—and may also promote the self-directed attacks of autoimmune diseases and the rejection of transplanted organs. These days, research on TLS "is exploding," says immunologist Andreas Habenicht of the University of Munich in Germany. Armed with new understanding of the signals that create these structures, drug companies have even begun testing compounds to block TLS formation in people with autoimmune diseases.
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