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The 3D imaging provides insight into immune responses

A new imaging technique sheds light on immune responses and scene setting to enhance immune memory to improve vaccine strategies.

A new imaging technique sheds light on immune responses and scene setting to enhance immune memory to improve vaccine strategies.

By visualizing healthy lymph organs in three dimensions, the researchers were able to identify specialized niches, which can determine how immune T cells work.

Research published in Nature’s immunity, Is a step forward in understanding T cell differentiation – cells critical to developing robust immune responses – and how we can use these critical findings to inform and improve vaccine strategies.

In a glance

  • The 3D imaging allowed the researchers to identify factors that play a role in determining where immune memory cells are located in a lymph node, in response to infection or cancer.
  • The research has identified avenues to therapeutically target memory and effector cells for a range of applications, including vaccine development.
  • The results will help inform and improve future vaccination strategies.

Keep memory cells ready

The researchers at WEHI, Ms. Brigitte Duckworth and Dr. Joanna Groom, said the imaging technique can be applied to many different settings.

With this type of 3D imaging, we have the ability to visualize how and where immune cells decide their fate. “There is a real interest in understanding these mechanisms, because it gives us clues about how they are targeted therapeutically and to harness them for a range of applications, including vaccine development,” said Ms. Duckworth.

The team studied two types of immune cells: responsive cells, which fight infection, and memory cells, which “remember” how to fight certain infections, such as viruses, so that they can be removed quickly if they return in the future.

“These memory cells are especially important because they keep chronic infections and cancers under control and they act quickly if we see the virus again,” Duckworth said.

“This work opens the door to harnessing external factors such as vaccines to reposition immune cells in the lymph node and possibly direct the exact type of immune response we wish to generate.”

Understanding vaccine strategies

Dr Groom said COVID-19 has put vaccines and vaccination strategies in the spotlight and highlighted the importance of getting a better understanding of our immune response to vaccination.

“These memory cells are what we want to produce when we vaccinate. Previously, we focused on the overall immune response, but our data indicates that it may not be the best strategy.”

“Perhaps the most effective response would be to direct the vaccines specifically toward memory formation because we want these cells to remain for a long time after vaccination and to interact when we come into contact with a virus.”

The use of T cell differentiation to improve the immune response

Dr. Groom said the research team had identified factors that played a role in determining the location of memory cells in a lymph node.

“We have identified several ways in which we can alter the direction of T cell differentiation,” she said.

“These rates can be used as a tool to control whether we want more influencing cells, which is good for overcoming an immediate threat, such as cancer; or whether we want to switch to memory cells for long-lasting immune benefits.”

“We are now looking at these goals to define the therapeutic window of opportunity and determine which cells will be most effective and have the greatest impact on future vaccination strategies.”

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The research was supported with funding from the National Council for Health and Medical Research, a WEHI Centennial Fellowship sponsored by CSL, the Australian Research Council, the Norman, Anne and Graeme Atkins Charity Fund, and the Victorian Government.

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