With scientists counting on our immune systems’ “memory” to provide long-term protection against severe COVID-19, University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers and their collaborators have shed light on how one type of “memory” cells mounts powerful defenses against subsequent infections by the same disease.
The discovery reveals how immune cells called “central memory CD8+ T cells” swing into action when encountering an old foe. Even as antibodies wane, these long-lived cells stand by, silently, in case the body should need to beat back a subsequent infection.
The fresh understanding of how these cells work could open the door to new ways to boost our body’s ability to battle infectious diseases and cancer, the researchers say.
“Our work showed how important genes are turned on from the chromosomes in this particular type of immune cells when these cells wake up to fight invading viruses or bacteria that they memorized from previous battles,” said researcher Chongzhi Zang, a computational biologist with UVA’s Center for Public Health Genomics and Department of Public Health Sciences. “A deeper understanding of how the genome works in each different immune cell type can have implications for developing novel therapeutics to harness the immune system against not only infectious diseases in a pandemic, but also cancer, which still takes numerous lives every year.”
Read the full UVA Today article here and the published research in Nature Immunology here.