Modeling pathogen responses

October 12, 2007

The search for a vaccination against HIV has been in progress since 1984, with very little success. Traditional methods used for identifying potential cellular targets can be very costly and time-consuming. The key to creating a vaccination lies in knowing which parts of the pathogen to target with which antibodies.

A new study by David Heckerman and colleagues from Massachusetts General Hospital, publishing on October 12, 2007, in PLoS Computational Biology, has come up with a way to match pathogens to their antibodies.

At the core of the human immune response is the train-to-kill mechanism in which specialized immune cells are sensitized to recognize small peptides from foreign pathogens (e.g., HIV). Following this sensitization, these cells are then activated to kill cells that display this same peptide. However, for sensitization and killing to occur, the pathogen peptide must be “paired up” with one of the infected person’s other specialized immune molecules—an HLA (human leukocyte antigen) molecule. The way in which pathogen peptides interact with these HLA molecules defines if and how an immune response will be generated.

Heckerman’s model uses ELISpot assays to identify HLA-restricted epitopes, and which HLA alleles are responsible for which reactions towards which pathogens. The data generated about the immune response to pathogens fills in missing information from previous studies, and can be used to solve a variety of similar problems. The model was applied to data from donors with HIV, and made 12 correct predictions out of 16. This study, says David Heckerman, has “significant implications for the understanding of…vaccine development”. The statistical approach is unusual in the study of HLA molecules, and could lead the way to developing an HIV vaccine.

Source: Public Library of Science

Explore further: New gene drive technology evokes hopes and fears

Related Stories

New gene drive technology evokes hopes and fears

October 2, 2015

The idea of introducing a novel gene into a few individuals that then spreads through an entire population sounds like a premise for science fiction. And yet fiction can be prophetic.

Fungi may lead to cheaper cancer treatment

September 24, 2015

Cheaper anti-cancer drugs for humans might ultimately stem from a new study by University of Guelph scientists into a kind of microbial "bandage" that protects yew trees from disease-causing fungi.

Antimicrobial film for future implants

September 23, 2015

The implantation of medical devices is not without risks. Bacterial or fungal infections can occur and the body's strong immune response may lead to the rejection of the implant. Researchers at Unit 1121 "Biomaterials and ...

10 to 1: Bugs win in NASA study

September 22, 2015

Bugs are winning out, and that's a good thing according to NASA's Human Research Program. As part of NASA's One-Year Mission, researchers are studying how microbes living on astronauts' skin, inside their bodies and on the ...

Recommended for you

What are white holes?

October 9, 2015

Black holes are created when stars die catastrophically in a supernova. So what in the universe is a white hole?

Horn of Africa drying ever faster as climate warms

October 9, 2015

The Horn of Africa has become increasingly arid in sync with the global and regional warming of the last century and at a rate unprecedented in the last 2,000 years, according to new research led by a University of Arizona ...

Could 'The Day After Tomorrow' happen?

October 9, 2015

A researcher from the University of Southampton has produced a scientific study of the climate scenario featured in the disaster movie 'The Day After Tomorrow'.

A mission to a metal world—The Psyche mission

October 9, 2015

In their drive to set exploration goals for the future, NASA's Discovery Program put out the call for proposals for their thirteenth Discovery mission in February 2014. After reviewing the 27 initial proposals, a panel of ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.