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Scientists find a key to immune system's ability to remember

The human immune system is a peerless memory bank. Its ability to accurately catalog and recall long past encounters with viruses, bacteria and other pathogens is why we only get the measles or chicken pox once, and is why exposure to deactivated virus particles in vaccines confers protection from disease.

But how that memory system works -- how it acts at the finest level of detail to thwart the pathogens that invade our bodies -- is not well understood. Now, however, an international team of scientists has ferreted out an important clue to how the key cells of the immune system are able to remember old foes and quickly mount a response to hold them at bay.

Writing this week (Oct. 23, 2006) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a team of researchers led by University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher Marulasiddappa Suresh identify the role of a protein that is important in stimulating the cells of the immune system, whose role is to take quick and effective action when agents of disease reinvade the body.

"We have found at least a part of how the immune system remembers its encounters," says Suresh, a professor of pathobiological sciences in the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. "We now know one of the reasons why we get such a quick (immune) response" when we are exposed to pathogens we've experienced before.

The new insight is important not only because it sheds light on the biochemical intricacies of immune system memory, but also because it may one day aid in the development of vaccines against infections like AIDS, and help victims of autoimmune diseases and transplant patients whose immune systems reject donor organs.

The protein, which scientists call Lck, is essential for immune system T cells -- white blood cells that attack virus-infected cells, foreign cells and cancer cells -- to cement the memory induced by cell surface sensors known as antigen receptors that act to identif
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Source:University of Wisconsin-Madison


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