A new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, discovered that a special type of immune T cell naturally defends against Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection.
The study was published in Thursday's issue of PLOS Pathogens. Samuel Behar, senior author of the study, and his colleagues sought to discover new ways to fight Mtb infections and found invariant natural kill T cells naturally fight off the infection.
When iNKT cells were exposed to macrophages infected with Mtb, the iNKT cells prevented the Mtb from growing and duplicating inside the macrophages. Through clinical studies with mice, the scientists discovered two ways the iNKT cells fight Mtb infections.
In the first method, iNKT cells produce and release interferon gamma to activate the immune system, preventing Mtb cell growth. The iNKT cells can also produce and release GM-CSF, an immune system component that also stopped the reproduction of Mtb cells.
The research team expressed excitement in the discovery and hope to cultivate the iNKT cell properties in novel drugs to help fight against Mtb infection.
"Understanding how iNKT cells contribute to the control and elimination of Mtb in general and finding that GM-CSF has an essential function could lead to novel therapeutic approaches that strengthen their activity and boost the overall immune response during infection," the research team said.