New research may lead to better flu vaccine

February 27, 2008

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 are much less understood than their immunological cousins known as T cells. According to Sangster, technological developments have made it easier to study T cells, leaving B cell discoveries slower in coming.

The findings, published in this week's online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, lay important groundwork for future flu vaccine research, said Sangster.

Since vaccines use either weakened or dead copies of the flu virus to trigger the body's immune system into responding, the body's response to the virus in the vaccine is different and less powerful than its response to a full-on infection.

"With this understanding of memory B cell formation in response to a full-on infection, we have a model for vaccines in the response that they generate," Sangster said.

He said one of the next steps will be to look at any differences in how memory B cells are formed by vaccines given by injection versus those inhaled through the nose. He noted that those differences may provide more clues about the significance of the pool of memory B cells in the lungs.

"The Holy Grail for all of this is to develop a vaccine that will protect against a wide range of subtypes and strains of the flu virus," said Sangster. "We're not there yet, but this knowledge is a step in that direction."

Source: University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New approach helps rodents with spinal cord injury breathe on their own

October 17, 2017
One of the most severe consequences of spinal cord injury in the neck is losing the ability to control the diaphragm and breathe on one's own. Now, investigators show for the first time in laboratory models that two different ...

Pair of discoveries illuminate new paths to flu and anthrax treatments

October 17, 2017
Two recent studies led by biologists at the University of California San Diego have set the research groundwork for new avenues to treat influenza and anthrax poisoning.

New method to measure how drugs interact

October 17, 2017
Cancer, HIV and tuberculosis are among the many serious diseases that are frequently treated with combinations of three or more drugs, over months or even years. Developing the most effective therapies for such diseases requires ...

A new compound targets energy generation, thereby killing metastatic cells

October 17, 2017
Cancer can most often be successfully treated when confined to one organ. But a greater challenge lies in treating cancer that has metastasized, or spread, from the primary tumor throughout the patient's body. Although immunotherapy ...

Research finds that zinc binding is vital for regulating pH levels in the brain

October 17, 2017
Researchers in Oslo, Norway, have discovered that zinc binding plays an important role in the sensing and regulation of pH in the human brain. The findings come as one of the first studies that directly link zinc binding ...

Researchers find factor that delays wound healing

October 17, 2017
New research carried out at The University of Manchester has identified a bacterium—normally present on the skin that causes poor wound healing in certain conditions.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.