KNOXVILLE -- New research from a scientist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has uncovered information that may someday lead to a better flu vaccine.
While the research is an early step toward a better vaccine, the findings from Mark Sangster, a professor of microbiology, track a little-understood immune system cell's response to an influenza infection and reveal new information about where it is most concentrated in the body.
By analyzing the formation of the cells, known as memory B cells, Sangster and his colleagues may better understand how to stimulate their production by vaccination.
"When we see how these cells are formed in response to a full-on infection of the flu, we get a picture of the gold standard of the immune response and protection," said Sangster, who co-authored the paper with graduate student Hye Mee Joo and postdoctoral researcher Yuxia He.
At the heart of the research, said Sangster, was learning where memory B cells reside after an infection of the flu, and how many are in each location. The cells are created when the immune system responds to infection, and act as a sort of "first responder," specially tailored to the specific type of virus that triggered their creation.
When the body is faced with the flu again, these cells quickly begin making antibodies that fight the flu virus.
"By knowing where these cells reside after an infection, we can learn what this means in how they may respond to subsequent exposure to the virus," said Sangster. "It gives us a standard that we can use to evaluate and tailor how the body responds to vaccines."
One finding that surprised Sangster was that the memory B cells were found in especially high concentrations in the lungs -- organs not usually associated with an immune response.
"What we found is that the lungs are a complex and potentially very useful reservoir of immunological memory," he said.
B memory cells
|Contact: Jay Mayfield|
University of Tennessee at Knoxville