Study finds flu virus, vaccine effect closely tied

A Swiss study released Thursday said how much protection the flu shot provides depends on how closely the vaccine matches the circulating virus.

Adrian Egli and colleagues from the University of Basel began with blood samples from organ-transplant patients, as these individuals are at an increased risk for acquiring infections because their immune systems are riddled by immune-suppressive drugs used to prevent rejection. Under these circumstances, vaccines fail to work well.

The study, published recently in PLOS Pathogens, also said the response from the flu vaccine depends on the strength of the immune response elicited by the vaccine.

Previous studies said different versions of the IL-28B gene affect immune responses -- each person has two copies of the IL-28B gene. For the study, one version (the common T allele) was found in 135 of 196 subjects, and of the remaining 61 people, 54 had one copy of T allele and one copy of the less-common G allele. Seven patients had two copies of the G allele.

The researchers said those who had at least one copy of the minor G allele were more likely to have detectable antibodies against the particular influenza strain after vaccination. They also found substantial differences following flu vaccination in the creation of immune-modulators that determine the type of T-cell response and in the production of antibodies by B cells.

To see whether the results are relevant for people who are not on anti-immune medication, the researchers used a group of healthy volunteers (28 with two major T alleles and 21 who carried at least one minor G allele) and found that minor allele carriers had less IL-28B gene product activation and stronger antibody immune response to the flu vaccine.

The research team was able to identify IL-28B as a key regulator of the immune response to the flu vaccine and said blocking the IL-28B receptor may boost the antibody response to the flu vaccine and other vaccines, thereby making it feasible for new medications to be created and designed in the future.

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