Study helps explain how booster shots operate

A new Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) study helps shed light on how booster shots work to prompt immune “memory” to improve protection.

This is also an important step toward the development of more effective, longer-lasting vaccines.

The researchers' findings were published online in Nature Immunology. This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Foundation Bettencourt-Schueller, the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Novartis Jubliaeumsstiftung and the Roche Research Foundation.

"We can now see the evolution of better protection in single memory cells as they respond to the boost,” senior author of the study and TSRI Professor Michael McHeyzer-Williams said. “You develop memory so that the next time you see it, you clear the infection more quickly, but the cellular and molecular details of memory are not well understood.

“A diverse immune response may be advantageous because viruses and other pathogens are also continually evolving.”

In the study, researchers injected mice with an antigen to prompt an immune response using flow cytometry and collected single memory B cells four and eight days after injecting an antigen boost. Once they had collected about 700 individual memory B cells from germinal centers, the researchers then directly associated the proteins expressed, sequenced the genes from the individual B cell receptors, then measured 96 other genes from each of the other single memory B cells.

As viruses attack the body, the immune system’s B cells produce antibodies to fight the virus, but at the same time, other memory B cells bind to special areas of the lymph nodes, trained to recognize even tiny amounts of the virus if it attacks again. And as memory B cells land in the centers of the lymph nodes, they are cloned -- often leading to more effective antibodies.

Scientists have long theorized that memory B cells produce more effective antibodies each time they encounter a virus, which would explain why most vaccines require booster shots.

“The training is actually ongoing; they keep on training and keep getting better at their task,” TSRI Senior Scientific Associate Louise McHeyzer-Williams said.

Organizations in this Story

National Institutes of Health The Scripps Research Institute

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