Novel map reveals how immune cells fight and remember infections

Researchers have charted the activity of tens of thousands of genes in mouse immune cells over the course of an infection to create the first full dynamic map of how cells learn to fight microbes, and then preserve a memory of this for future infections.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Immunology, could help scientists develop new vaccines and therapeutics for a range of diseases by guiding their research into a particular set of immune cells, known as CD4+ T cells.

The international research team was led by University of Melbourne’s Dr. Ashraful Haque from the School of Biomedical Sciences, and Dr. Sarah Teichmann, Head of Cellular Genetics at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Hinxton, UK.

Dr. Ashraful Haque is a senior research fellow from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. He is also a laboratory head at the University of Melbourne affiliated Peter Doherty Institute, where he has studied host/parasite interactions in blood-stage malaria, with a specific interest in single-cell genomics.

For the recent research, Dr. Haque studied the CD4+ T cells during an experimental infection of mice with malaria-causing parasites, which invade and multiply inside red blood cells. With the aid of machine learning techniques, the research team combined the gene activity data over four weeks of infection to generate a comprehensive map of the developmental journeys taken by CD4+ T cells.

Novel map

An artistic representation of the cells’ developmental journeys. Artwork credit: Dr. Philippa M. Saunders, University of Melbourne and Doherty Institute.

“We traced thousands of individual genes to generate a map from initial infection to periods when cells firstly ‘decide’ between various immune roles for fighting the infection, and secondly preserve memories of that encounter.” Dr. Haque said.

“Our map revealed several novel genes that were active - in particular, in a type of CD4+ T cells called T follicular helper cells. These are essential for making antibodies that protect against malaria but have not yet been well studied,” he said.

The scientists have shared their data through a freely available digital resource, allowing any researcher to track the response of individual genes after infection.

The map is freely available to immunology researchers worldwide. To read more about the research findings from the Peter Doherty Institute website, click the button below:

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