Scientists from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and their colleagues have unraveled some of the fundamental mysteries about the genetic mechanisms that endow the immune system with its life-saving ability to generate specialized antibodies.
Without genetic fine-tuning, antibodies would be relatively ineffective in finding a good match on the surface of viruses, parasites, and other potentially dangerous foreign pathogens. The findings also reveal the workings of a gene mutation process that can go awry, leading to the development of certain forms of cancer or allergic reactions.
HHMI investigator Frederick W. Alt at Children’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School directed the studies. His team’s findings explain the genetic line dance by which an otherwise generic immunoglobulin, or antibody, molecule acquires the genetic components that encode for the structural characteristics it needs to activate appropriate pathways to eliminate specific types of invaders, or antigens. The appropriate class of immunoglobulin can then mark invading cells for elimination by other cells of the immune system.
Jim Keeley | Howard Hughes Medical Institute
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