Immune system's elasticity is demonstrated in Virginia Tech study
The study, published in Nature Communications, shows the immune system begins its front-line defense when a virus or bacteria begins to attack the body. If the infection settles, the immune system produces specific cells that specialize in fighting that infection.
"We've found that the inherent flexibility of the immune system is even more complex than previously understood," Kenneth Oestreich, senior author of the paper and an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, said.
The specialized cells are called effector cells and are able to eliminate the infection. After that, the immune system uses the effector cells as memory cells; then the body can reuse those cells to fight the infection if it settles in the body again. This allows the body to respond faster the second time it recognizes the infection.
"That's the basis of vaccine-mediated immunity," Paul McDonald, a research scientist at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and first author on the paper, said. "But how these memory cells arise after an infection has always been a bit of a mystery. Our study suggests that these important cells may arise directly from the effector population."