Researchers at the Trudeau Institute, Saranac Lake, NY, recently identified two important signaling components required by the immune system that might allow prepositioning of an individual’s own virus-fighting white blood cells, known as T cells, to the lungs to protect against the influenza virus. The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, have prompted researchers to focus on inducing cellular immunity as a means to protect against influenza virus.
The first T cell is residual antigen—needed to stimulate antibodies—that remains in the lymph nodes for weeks after the initial infection has been cleared. The second is an “imprinting event” that instructs the T cells to specifically seek a target organ—in the case of flu, the lung. This imprinting event directs the T cells to where the original infectious agent entered the body and where the cells need to go to fight future infections.
According to the researchers, this new information could lead to the development of vaccines designed to promote immunity to respiratory infections. They hope that it may be possible to protect the population by prepositioning flu-fighting T cells in the lungs—the site of initial infection—so they are in place when the body needs them.