JAN 21, 2016 03:07 PM PST

The Science Behind the Memory of the Immune System

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
How exactly does our immune system “remember” certain pathogens so the response to an infection is more powerful after the first invasion? New findings from the University of Birmingham points to a unique relationship between lymphocytes and certain chromosomal regions. This connection helps the cells remember characteristics of pathogens to make the next attack faster and better, in a similar way to how some mobile phones remember the words people frequently text to their contacts and provide them with suggestions in future messages.
 
The study was published in The EMBO J and led by Peter Cockerill.
 
A healthy T lymphocyte

Cockerill and his team found that T lymphocytes are activated in response to an infection, the immune system leaves behind “imprints” in T lymphocytes’ chromosomes if it is the first time the body is experiencing a certain pathogen.
 
When the body encounters the pathogen a second time, these genes begin to be expressed again, following suit with reactivated immune cells. Immune cells remain in a dormant state in between infections when the body is healthy and functioning normally. However, these cells sleep with one eye open; they are more prepared than other non-primed immune cells to spring into action when the same pathogen returns for round two. The chromosome activation is what enables these dormant cells to “sit poised, ready to respond much faster when activated again in the future."
 
Keeping the “soldiers” prepared but at rest keeps the body from attacking its own cells by mistake. Autoimmune disease develops from an overactive or dysfunctional immune response, and with lymphocytes remaining dormant until needed, the risk of autoimmune disease is reduced.
 

Source: University of Birmingham 
 
 
About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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