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Immune system mystery 'solved'

world Updated: Jul 20, 2009 10:59 IST

Scientists have unravelled a mystery of the immune system, a finding which they claim could be used to help improve the body's response to vaccination.

As soon as people are infected with a virus or other microbe, they start generating antibodies. The cells that make antibodies, the B cells, are quickly faced with a choice about the direction they will take in life.

Some make high quality antibodies over a period of several weeks. Others churn out low quality antibodies, and in turn, sacrificing quality for speed. Until now, no one has understood what drives B cells to make that choice.

Now, an international team, led by Garvan Institute of Medical Research, has demonstrated in mice that the presence or absence of cell surface receptor, EBI2, is the determining factor, the 'Immunity' journal reported.

"We have billions of B cells in our bodies, each with the ability to make antibodies against different microbes.

However, only a very small fraction of B cells are going to be useful against any single infection, as only a few will have antibodies that roughly match it.

"There was evidence to suggest that when B cells went to germinal centres to make high affinity antibodies, they lost EBI2 receptor," team leader Robert Brink said.