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12 Jan 2018

First conclusive evidence memory T cells proliferate and persist to fight future infections

Specialist memory immune cells in our skin may unlock new therapies and vaccines

For the first time, researchers have demonstrated that specialised immune cells in our skin can ‘remember’ pathogens they have previously fought, and can rapidly multiply and attack when they encounter the same infection.

Understanding how such memory T cells enter and become resident immune cells in tissues has important implications for the design of new therapies against infectious diseases as well as cancer.

The study, published this week in Nature Immunology, was supervised by University of Melbourne Dr Laura Mackay and Associate Professor Scott Mueller at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, with co-authors from the John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU.

“This is good news as it has exciting implications for improving vaccines that may protect us from pathogens for longer periods by ensuring memory T cells stay in the tissues where they are most needed to fight disease.” Said Dr Laura Mackay.

Associate Professor Scott Mueller added: “Memory T cells are a vital part of our body’s immune system, part of our defensive armoury against infectious diseases and cancer. They are battle-hardened immune cells having already encountered and responded to a pathogen, and they are found in numerous tissues around the body. We found that these skin-resident memory T cells rapidly defeated invading pathogens on second exposure.”

The study showed for the first time that skin-resident memory T cells proliferate and remain in the skin where they fight the infection and then persist as a stable line of defence against future infections.  These cells are preserved even after multiple unrelated infections that add new populations of memory T cells to the skin.

Read the full paper.