Finding suggests novel ways to boost vaccination or natural defenses

Jul 07, 2008

Our bodies rely on the production of potent, or 'high affinity', antibodies to fight infection. The process is very complex, yet Sydney scientists have discovered that it hinges on a single molecule, a growth factor, without which it cannot function.

There is much we do not yet understand about our immune system. In simple terms, our bodies produce B cells, which make antibodies, and T cells, which help them. Ways in which these cells operate and interact with each other are still coming to light.

Roughly eight years ago, a new subset of T cells, T follicular helper (TFH) cells, was identified. This important class of T cells operates in specific environments termed 'germinal centres', specialised areas within lymph organs where B cells proliferate to form high affinity antibodies whenever we fight infection. TFH cells play a critical role in that they communicate with, and help activate, B cells.

The novel finding made by Dr Cecile King and PhD student Alexis Vogelzang, from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, was that the molecule interleukin 21 (IL-21) is a growth factor for TFH cells. A paper detailing this finding was published online today in the prestigious international journal Immunity.

A cytokine, or chemical messenger, IL-21 is already well known to immunologists. While its newly identified growth factor role is only one of several functions, that function is fundamental. Without IL-21, the all-important TFH cells could neither develop nor survive.

Dr Cecile King, head of the Mucosal Autoimmunity Group at Garvan, has been investigating the roles of IL-21 for several years. "We already knew that IL-21 was produced by TFH cells and that it was a major initiator of proliferation in B cells," she said. "We were surprised to find that TFH cells not only produce IL-21, they also absolutely need it to survive and they utilise it to function."

"We showed that if you take a mouse genetically deficient in IL-21 and immunise it, you don't get TFH cells and you don't get antibody production. Conversely, if you put IL-21 receptor sufficient, or normal, T cells into the same mouse, where of course the B cells remain abnormal, you recover the normal immune reaction."

"These specialised T cells are thought to be the ones that direct traffic. They are the only ones that can move into the B cell zone and initiate high affinity antibody production."

"Without IL-21, we probably wouldn't be completely immunodeficient, just severely compromised. In addition to the high affinity antibodies we're talking about, our bodies also produce a lot of low affinity antibodies for mopping up infection. That low level response happens around-the-clock and is one of our body's first lines of defence."

"You could say that IL-21 directs the most finely-tuned aspect of our immune response. The highly specialised weaponry developed on-the-spot to target aggressive invaders."

"This finding suggests novel ways to boost vaccination or natural defences."

Source: Research Australia

Explore further: Longer needles recommended for epinephrine autoinjectors

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Living in the genetic comfort zone

16 minutes ago

The information encoded in the DNA of an organism is not sufficient to determine the expression pattern of genes. This fact has been known even before the discovery of epigenetics, which refers to external ...

'Bright spot' on Ceres has dimmer companion

1 hour ago

Dwarf planet Ceres continues to puzzle scientists as NASA's Dawn spacecraft gets closer to being captured into orbit around the object. The latest images from Dawn, taken nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers) ...

Key facts on US 'open Internet' regulation

1 hour ago

A landmark ruling by the US Federal Communications Commission seeks to enshrine the notion of an "open Internet," or "net neutrality." Here are key points:

Spotify deals with random shuffle and we mortals

1 hour ago

How do we mortals perceive random sequences? An entry in the question-and-answer site Quora focused on a question involving a music-streaming service Spotify. That question signifies how we perceive what ...

Recommended for you

Longer needles recommended for epinephrine autoinjectors

3 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Given the increasing epidemic of obesity, epinephrine autoinjectors (EAIs) for anaphylaxis require longer needles to ensure intramuscular injection, according to a study published online Feb. ...

User comments : 0

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.