Important immune alarm cells — dendritic cells — are fighting Zika virus with an arm tied behind their backs, scientists from Emory Vaccine Center report.
Dendritic cells are “sentinel” cells that alert the rest of the immune system when they detect viral infection. When Zika virus infects them, it shuts down interferon signaling, one route for mustering the antiviral troops. However, another antiviral pathway called RIG-I-like receptor (RLR) signaling is left intact and could be a target for immunity-boosting therapies, the researchers say.
Mehul Suthar, PhD in the lab with graduate students Kendra Quicke and James Bowen
Zika was known to disrupt interferon signaling, but Emory researchers have observed that it does so in ways that are distinct from other related flaviviruses, such as Dengue virus and West Nile virus. The findings give additional insight into how Zika virus is able to counter human immune defenses. Read more
As they succeed in clearing a viral infection from the body, some virus-hunting T cells begin to stick better to their target cells, researchers from Emory Vaccine Center and Georgia Tech have discovered.
The increased affinity helps the T cells kill their target cells more efficiently, but it depends both on the immune cells’ anatomic location and the phase of the infection.
The results were published this week in the journal Immunity.
Arash Grakoui, PhD
After the peak of the infection, cells within the red pulp of the spleen or in the blood displayed a higher affinity for their targets than those within the white pulp. However, the white pulp T cells were more likely to become long-lasting memory T cells, critical for vaccines.
“These results provide a better understanding of how memory precursor populations are established and may have important implications for the development of efficacious vaccines,” the scientists write.
In the mouse model the researchers were using, the differences in affinity were only detectable a few days after the non-lethal LCMV viral infection peaks. How the differences were detected illustrates the role of serendipity in science, says senior author Arash Grakoui, PhD.
Typically, the scientists would have taken samples only at the peak (day 7 of the infection) and weeks later, when memory T cells had developed, Grakoui says. In January 2014, the weather intervened during one of these experiments. Snow disrupted transportation in the Atlanta area and prevented postdoctoral fellow Young-Jin Seo, PhD from taking samples from the infected mice until day 11, which is when the differences in affinity were apparent.
Seo and Grakoui collaborated with graduate student Prithiviraj Jothikumar and Cheng Zhu, PhD at Georgia Tech, using a technique Zhu’s laboratory has developed to measure the interactions between T cells and their target cells. Co-author Mehul Suthar, PhD performed gene expression analysis.