The Power of Three (Hao Wu)

Each of our cells has a time to die. Programmed cell death, or apoptosis, helps keep our bodies healthy by ensuring that excess or potentially dangerous cells self-destruct.

One way cells know when to pull the plug is through signals received by so-called death receptors that stud cells’ surfaces.

Researchers studying a death receptor called Fas have now found that for immune cells to hear the death knell, a largely overlooked portion of the receptor must coil into an intricate three-part formation.

The findings revise scientists’ understanding of how these receptors work and provide new ways to consider tackling diseases that can develop when apoptotic signals go awry, including cancer and autoimmune diseases.

The study, led by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, was published Feb. 4 in Molecular Cell.