Australian and British researchers have determined the structure of perfori, a protein which plays a part in helping insulin-producing beta cells get killed off by the body’s immune system in early onset diabetes (type 1 diabetes).
Perforin is a protein found in cytotoxic cells (cells which kill other cells). Two of the cells which carry the perforin protein are T cells and NK cells (natural killer cells). Perforin acts by opening up small holes in rogue cells allowing toxic enzymes to enter and kill those rogue cells.
Using electron microscopes, Australian and British scientists have discovered the structure of these proteins, helping to understand how these proteins are able to make holes in rogue cells. They found that the perforin molecules clustered together in a ring in order to open a hole in the target cells.
With a greater understanding now of how these cells work, it is hoped that perforin activity could be inhibited, in the early stages of type 1 diabetes, to slow down the body’s ability to kill off the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin .
However, it is not just type 1 diabetes that perforin plays a role within. If perforin activity were increased, it could help to increase the body’s ability to fight off cancers and certain viral diseases.

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