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Cell survival protein discovery rewrites immune system story
Date:10/7/2010

A discovery by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers in Melbourne, Australia, reported in today's edition of Science, is set to rewrite a long-held belief about how the body's immune system establishes its memory.

The findings of Dr Ingela Vikstrom and Associate Professor David Tarlinton, from the institute's Immunology division, centre on immune cells called B cells that produce the antibodies which fight infection.

"B cells and antibody production are the key to the success of all currently used vaccines for immunity in humans," said Associate Professor Tarlinton. "It is therefore critical that we continue to develop our knowledge of the molecular interactions that lead to immune function, which are still only vaguely understood."

Memory B cells are essential for the long-lived immunity that arises after immunisation. To develop into memory cells, B cells have to survive the natural process of apoptosis, or programmed cell death, that occurs following a large immune response.

Associate Professor Tarlinton and Dr Vikstrom study the so-called pro-survival proteins that regulate B cell survival and are therefore responsible for instructing these cells whether to live or die.

Dr Vikstrom said that B cell memory arises in temporary cellular structures called germinal centres that develop in response to activation of the immune system.

"We used genetic and pharmacological methods to identify which pro-survival molecules were essential for the process of 'instructing' these cells to establish germinal centres, as well as instructing activated B cells to proliferate and differentiate into memory B cells," Dr Vikstrom said.

"We studied two well-known pro-survival proteins called Bcl-xL and Mcl-1, which we knew were involved in the process. It surprised us to find that, contrary to popular belief, Mcl-1 is the essential pro-survival protein required for creation and maintenance of B cel
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Contact: Penny Fannin
fannin@wehi.edu.au
61-393-452-345
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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