A study in Nature reports that certain cells of the innate immune system can 'remember' infectious agents - an ability previously only attributed to cells of the adaptive immune system. The findings might explain some immune disorders such as skin allergies and have important implications for vaccine design.
Natural killer (NK) cells are powerful assassins that help the immune system to eradicate virus-infected cells. The ability to remember an infectious agent is termed -immunological memory' and was previously only attributed to cells such as B and T cells, which comprise the adaptive immune system. NK cells were classified as cells of the innate immune system, which react to infection each time as if it is the first encounter.
Lewis Lanier and colleagues monitored NK cells in mice after virus infection and found that some develop into 'memory' cells that hang around longer than the others. When the virus returns, these cells react faster and better to clear the infection more quickly. The research suggests that NK cells represent an evolutionary intermediate between the very basic innate immune system and the highly tuned adaptive immune system.
Lewis Lanier (University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature press release.
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