DALLAS May 28, 2009 Immunology researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have discovered how two biochemical signals play unique roles in promoting the development of a group of immune cells employed as tactical assassins.
In their initial response, these immune cells, known as cytotoxic T lymphocytes, or CTLs, kill cells infected with pathogens. They also provide long-term protection against pathogens by "remembering" which proteins the pathogen makes. Targeting the ability of these CTLs to remember the pathogen is one way vaccines protect against infection.
"Until now, no innate signals have been identified that regulate the development of memory cells," said Dr. David Farrar, assistant professor of immunology at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study appearing online and in a future edition of Blood. "Our study is the first to identify the signals that promote the development of these memory cells when you first get infected."
The researchers previously showed that two molecules interferon alpha and another signaling protein, cytokine, or IL-12 are needed to induce the creation of memory cells. They also found that interferon plays a key role in "teaching" the immune system how to fight off repeated infections of the same virus.
Dr. Farrar said the findings suggest that in order to be most effective, a vaccine should induce the secretion of both of these innate cytokines.
The immune system consists of two components the innate system, which provides immediate defense against infection, and the adaptive system, whose memory cells are called into action to fight off subsequent infections. The human immune system churns out both IL-12 and interferon alpha in large quantities in response to a viral infection.
"The concept in the field has been that these cytokines perform the same function, but our new findings suggest that they actually have very distinct roles," said Hilario R
|Contact: Kristen Holland Shear|
UT Southwestern Medical Center