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Evolution in the antibody factory
Date:3/11/2013

This press release is available in German.

Immune system B cells play a crucial role in the defence of pathogens; when they detect such an intruder, they produce antibodies that help to combat the enemy. They concurrently and continuously improve these molecules to more precisely recognize the pathogens. A team of scientists with participation of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) has discovered that during this process the cells are able to advance their own evolution themselves by increasing the selection pressure through previously-produced antibodies. The results are also significant for the development of new vaccination strategies.

The principle of evolution signifies the competition for limited resources and a reaction to changeable environmental conditions. This selection pressure is virtually produced by the B cells on their own; they subject themselves to an optimization cycle in the lymph node, a process which only a few of them survive, i.e. particular cells that are able to produce "better" antibody molecules as compared to those that already exist within the body. The quality of these antibodies is tested in the lymph nodes, and only those cells that are able to prove themselves here receive signals from other immune cells that assure their survival.

Every B cell carries a specific defence molecule on its surface. It recognizes certain structures of pathogens so-called antigens similar to the way a key fits into one specific lock. This molecule is furthermore produced in a certain form that does not remain on the cell surface; rather, it travels with blood and lymph throughout the body. If the antibody encounters an antigen, it either binds it to neutralise it, or it sends out an alarm to other players within the immune system.

At the beginning of an infection there are, figuratively speaking,
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Contact: Birgit Manno
Birgit.Manno@helmholtz-hzi.de
49-531-618-11411
Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research
Source:Eurekalert  

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