Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


There are no strict prerequisites, but some knowledge of genetics, biochemistry, and cell biology is expected. Students are recommended to have taken at least one of the following courses:

7.23J Immunology

7.06 Cell Biology

7.28 Molecular Biology

Course Description

The mammalian immune system is sometimes called a “liquid organ,” capable of rapidly initiating and then resolving potent responses to pathogens at almost any location in the organism. To accomplish this feat, the cells of the immune system must execute their functions in the right place at the right time, moving efficiently through a wide range of environments to ensure appropriate location and timing of their functions. What protein machinery drives immune cells’ rapid migration? How do cells make pathfinding decisions around barriers? How do they find rare pathogens or target cells in complex environments?

This course will begin by examining the general immunological functions of two major immune cell types—T cells and dendritic cells. We will then explore three aspects of T cell and dendritic cell function: (1) the biochemical sensors and mediators that compel immune cell motility, (2) the physical properties of cells and the structural proteins that drive their movements, and (3) the striking scale of immune system function, exemplified by structures that comprise many thousands of migrating cells during inflammation. Each of these aspects will be considered in the context of the adaptive immune response to tumors, which involves sequential recruitment of immune cells with specific functions and impacts on one another.

Through our readings and discussions, we will examine the connections between immunotherapy as an emerging treatment modality for a variety of cancers and the migration of immune cells. Using the primary research literature as a base, students in this course will learn how to integrate rich mechanistic detail established at subcellular and molecular scales with the large-scale powerful functions by which the immune system can respond to challenges anywhere in the body.


This course will meet once per week for two hours. The day and time of the course is flexible pending the mutual availability of the instructor and students. Each week we will discuss two scientific articles, critically analyzing the experimental design, methodology, results, and conclusions of the papers. Students are expected to have read the articles in advance of class and should be prepared to discuss them in detail with the group.


  • Learn to critically evaluate the design, results, and conclusions of primary scientific literature.
  • Independently write and orally present critiques of scientific articles.
  • Learn about the physical tenets of mammalian cell shape change and migration.
  • Learn about the roles of dendritic cells and T cells in adaptive immunity.
  • Learn about the relationship of cell migration with specific functions of immune cells.


The course will be graded as pass/fail. Students are expected to attend every class, come prepared to and actively participate in discussions, and complete both assignments in a satisfactory manner.


Week # Topics Key Dates
1 Introduction  
2 Immune Responses to Cancer  
3 The Physical Basis of Cell Motility I  
4 The Physical Basis of Cell Motility II  
5 Specialized Adhesions Formed by Immune Cells  
6 Modes of Cell Migration in and out of Confinement  
7 Guest Lecture: Jeff Kuhn, Director of the Microscopy Core Facility at the Koch Institute  
8 Signals that Guide Immune Cell Motility Written Assignment due
9 Integrating Start and Stop Signals in Immune Cells  
10 Making Decisions  
11 Migration in Immune and Nonimmune Tissues  
12 Cytoskeletal Regulation of Immune Cell Functions  
13 Oral Presentations and Wrap-Up Oral Presentation due

Course Info

Learning Resource Types

assignment Presentation Assignments
assignment Written Assignments