Researchers from the University of Chicago have discovered the first of a new class of "protective factors" that appear to be required for the development of memory T cells, the cells that form the core of a vaccine response. The finding could help scientists create more effective vaccines and may lead to potent immune system-based therapies against diseases that have previously eluded vaccines, such as cancer or AIDS.
When the immune system detects an invader, such as a virus, T cells with an affinity for that particular invader multiply rapidly, attack and eliminate infected cells. Once the infection is cleared, however, 90 to 95 percent of those T cells die off, a process called contraction. The five percent or so that survive are known as memory T cells. If a similar infection recurs, these experienced warriors are prepared to rush to the site, recognize that invader and eradicate it again.
Scientists know a great deal about the rapid proliferation and differentiation of these T cells but very little about the factors that regulate contraction. In the September, 2004, issue of Nature Immunology – published on-line August 15 -- the researchers show that activation of the gene for the Serine protease inhibitor 2A (Spi2A) can prevent the death of T cells during the contraction phase, resulting in about five times as many memory T cells.
John Easton | EurekAlert!
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