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Novel map of immune cells developed

Tuesday October 13th 2020

A novel map that charts how cells learn to fight microbes and then preserve a memory for future infections has been drawn up for the first time.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne, Australia, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and international collaborators hope their findings could help scientists to develop new vaccines and therapeutics for a range of diseases.

The study involved CD4+ T cells, which, the researchers say, are essential for generating immunity.

The data is available via a freely available digital resource, which will allow immunology researchers to track the response of individual genes after infection.

Writing in Nature Immunology, the research team describe how it studied the CD4+ T cells during an experimental infection of mice with malaria-causing parasites, which invade and multiply inside red blood cells.

Using machine-learning techniques, they combined the gene activity data over four weeks of infection to generate a comprehensive map of the developmental journeys taken by CD4+ T cells.

Co-lead author Dr Ashraful Haque, from the University of Melbourne’s Doherty Institute, said: “We traced thousands of individual genes to generate a map from initial infection to periods when cells firstly ‘decide’ between various immune roles for fighting the infection, and secondly preserve memories of that encounter.

“Our map revealed several novel genes that were active - in particular, in a type of CD4+ T cells called T follicular helper cells. These are essential for making antibodies that protect against malaria but have not yet been well studied.”

Dr Sarah Teichmann, co-lead author from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said while the map was generated using an experimental model of malaria, it will be useful for studying T cell responses in almost any infectious or non-infectious disease, or treatment in which T cells are involved.

“Further investigations are needed to confirm that human cells have a similar map to mouse CD4+ T cells,” she said. “However, we hope this discovery can point researchers in the right direction towards developing new vaccines for infectious diseases, new immune-therapies for certain cancers, and novel ways to prevent auto-immune conditions.”

Soon MSF, Lee HJ and Engel JA et al. Transcriptome dynamics of CD4+ T cells during malaria maps gradual transit from effector to memory. Nature Immunology 12 October 2020; doi: 10.1038/s41590-020-0800-8

Tags: Australia | Flu & Viruses | UK News

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