Researchers hope to boost body's response to chronic infections

When the body is under attack from an infection, the immune system develops memory T cells that help remember and attack the disease if it returns. But with chronic viruses like HIV or hepatitis C, the body is unable to clear the disease, and the memory T cells eventually fade away.

Emory Vaccine Center researchers have identified what causes memory T cells to disappear. They found that the 2B4 molecule on memory cells becomes regulated during chronic infection, causing them to slow down. "In a chronic infection, the memory T cells become so tightly regulated that they eventually are ineffective," explained author Erin West. "This is why it's so important to have that initial strength at the beginning."

The 2B4 molecule on T cells may help control the immune system so it doesn't become overactive, causing too much inflammation. West and her colleagues theorize that engineering memory T cells without 2B4 could enable the cells to better fight chronic infection. They hope their results could be used to improve vaccines designed to help the immune system respond quickly to potentially chronic infections.

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