As a resurgent H1N1 flu virus worries medical professionals and families, more people are looking to vaccines to keep them safe. A new discovery by scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation could shed light on why vaccines are ineffective in some patients.
In a paper published in the current issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, OMRF researchers Shikha Malhotra, Ph.D., Susan Kovats, Ph.D., and Mark Coggeshall, Ph.D., describe for the first time a crucial part of the process: when immune cells take in the vaccine.
Vaccines work by introducing a weakened or dead virus into the immune system. Then B cells, white blood cells that play a central role in the body's immune response, create antibodies that stand ready to fight any more potent version of the virus that might later attempt to enter the body.
To create antibodies, the B cell absorbs the protein from the vaccine and "presents" the plans for antibodies to an intermediary, known as a T helper cell. The T helper cell then tells the cell whether it should create the illness-fighting antibodies.
"On the surface, it seems oddly inefficient," said Coggeshall, who holds the Robert S. Kerr Jr. Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at OMRF. "Why not just have the cell start making antibodies?"
But Coggeshall said the T helper's role is crucial.
"That extra step is for safety," he said. …