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New discovery on early immune system development
Date:11/12/2013

Researchers at Lund University have shed light on how and when the immune system is formed, raising hope of better understanding various diseases in children, such as leukaemia.

The immune system is complex and a number of genetic diseases are attributed to defects in the cells that form its origins. The study from Lund and Oxford University presents unique findings on the formation of these cells.

We know that the first blood stem cells are formed in the aorta region and then travel to the liver, which is the body's major blood-forming organ during the foetal stage. In the liver, the blood stem cells produce the more mature blood cells that form our blood system. At the same time, T- and B-cells are formed, which comprise the basis of our advanced immune system. From birth, this process takes place in the bone marrow and the liver ceases to form blood cells.

Researchers have long believed that the first cells that lead to the development of our immune system, the immune-competent cells, are formed from blood stem cells in the liver while the foetus is developing. Blood stem cells can be found in the liver from day 11󈝸 in a mouse foetus, which is the equivalent of around 6 weeks' gestation in humans.

In the current study, which was performed on mice, researchers showed that these cells linked to our immune system are formed even earlier than this, in the embryo's yolk sac, i.e. before the first blood stem cells are formed. In the human embryo, the yolk sac is one of the three foetal sacs and appears in around the fifth week of pregnancy.

"The question we have posed is whether the immune system is formed in a different way in the foetus than in an adult and how early in the development of the foetus the cells that form our early immune system can be found. Knowledge of this is important because it helps us to understand how and when our immune system begins to form and what can go wrong in that process", explained Charlott
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Contact: Charlotta Böiers
Charlotta.Boiers@med.lu.se
46-709-436-812
Lund University
Source:Eurekalert

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