31 July 2007
New Garvan research, published online in the prestigious PNAS journal, identifies which genes are involved in our bodies’ capacity to “remember” infection, and fight it the second time around.
“This knowledge could be especially useful in developing new vaccines” said Dr Stuart Tangye, a group leader in the Immunology and Inflammation Program at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. “Until now, although scientists have known about B cell memory, we have not known how to manipulate it at a genetic level.”
“Basically, the first time we are infected with a disease, it takes time to build up a proper immune response. That’s because our bodies have to generate B cells, then carefully screen them to select which ones to use against an invader. Many B cells are tested, useful ones being kept and unhelpful or destructive ones destroyed.”
“Once we have developed this cellular knowledge, almost like a scientific protocol, our bodies know exactly which defenses to use next time, and can spring into action very quickly.”
As it happens, the genes involved in regulating this response are negative regulators, effectively applying brakes to the production of B cells the first time an infection is experienced. The second time around, the genes responsible for applying the brakes are turned off. If we can artificially control the genes, we may be able to remove the suppressive effect and allow our bodies to fight a new disease with the same intensity we fight a remembered one.
“Having identified the genes which trigger or dampen this response might also help us better understand what happens in patients with immunodeficient diseases, such as people who don’t create the antibodies that help them fight disease in the first place.”
Note: The PNAS journal is produced by the National Academy of Sciences in the United States.