Discovery could lead to improved TB vaccine

Australian researchers recently determined that that highly abundant mucosal associated invariant T cells can be used to activate the human immune system in a recent joint study.

MAIT cells recognize products of vitamin B synthesis from yeast and bacteria. The by-products of bacterial vitamin synthesis can be captured by the immune receptor MR1, which fine-tunes the MAIT cells for their role in the immune system, IANS reports.

"Humans are unable to make vitamin B and obtain it mostly from diet," Lars Kjer-Nielsen, the leader of the study, said, according to IANS. "Because bacteria can synthesize vitamin B, our immune system uses this as a point of difference to recognize infection. Given the relative abundance of the MAIT cells lining mucosal and other surfaces, such as the intestine, the mouth and lungs, it is quite probable that they play a protective role in many infections from thrush to tuberculosis."

The study allowed the researchers to determine the target of MAIT cells and how they were employed in the immune system. The discovery could open up new pathways for vaccines and therapeutics, IANS reports.

"This is a major breakthrough in which Australian researchers have beaten many strong research teams around the world, becoming the first to unlock the mystery of what drives a key component of our immune system," James McClusky, a University of Melbourne professor, said, according to IANS.

The joint study was led by scientists from the University of Melbourne and the University of Monash. The study was published in the scientific journal Nature.