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New insights could lead to a better pneumococcal vaccine
Date:9/22/2008

Discovery of a new, previously unknown mechanism of immunity suggests that there may be a better way to protect vulnerable children and adults against Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcal) infection, say researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The findings, published in the open-access journal PLoS Pathogens on September 19, may aid the development of novel pneumococcal vaccines. (The current vaccine, Prevnar, is expensive and covers only 7 of the 91 known pneumococcal strains.)

Pneumococcus causes serious infections in children and the elderly, including pneumonia and meningitis (inflammation of the brain). Since 2000, U.S. infants have been routinely immunized against pneumococcus, but most developing countries (where nearly one million children die from pneumococcal infections annually) cannot afford the existing vaccine.

Richard Malley, MD, of Children's Division of Infectious Diseases, and Marc Lipsitch, D. Phil., of HSPH have been studying how natural immunity against pneumococcus develops, and have shown that in addition to antibodies, T-cells can provide broad protection against this pathogen. In this new study, Malley and Lipsitch identify the specific protective T-cells so-called TH17 cells and show that they protect against infection by releasing IL-17, a protein that enables human blood cells to kill pneumococcus in the nose more efficiently. This is significant, since colonizing a person's nose is the first necessary step of infection.

Researchers had known that children, as they get older, carry pneumococcus in the nose for shorter periods of time and have less risk of disease, but it hadn't been known how this resistance develops. Malley, Lipsitch and their colleagues now show that adults and older children, but not newborn babies, have TH17 cells that target pneumococci, suggesting that exposure to pneumococcus normally leads to production of these cells. In mi
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Contact: Keri Stedman
keri.stedman@childrens.harvard.edu
617-919-3110
Children's Hospital Boston
Source:Eurekalert

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