One of the most surprising discoveries in the field of immunology is the finding that cells build structures—called inflammasomes—to launch the process of inflammation. Then within 24 hours or so of an infection or injury, they start to take these structures apart. "Imagine assembling a factory in a few minutes when a product is needed and then breaking it down once the need has passed, and you get the picture," Wajahat Z. Mehal of Yale University writes in the June 2015 issue of Scientific American.

This unexpected insight could lead to new treatments for Alzheimer's disease, gout and a host of other ailments, Mehal explains in the article "Inside the Inflammation Factory."

The temporary presence of inflammasomes can be seen in these photographs from Mehal's lab. In the photograph on top, the proteins needed to assemble an inflammasome are scattered throughout the cytoplasm of an unstimulated macrophage. (The proteins have been stained with a green dye.) Once the macrophage is stimulated, however, the molecules come together to form multiple distinct inflammasomes—seen as tiny dots (image on the bottom).

Credit: Courtesy of Wajahal Mehal