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Scientists Encounter Immune System’s “Secret Weapon”

The immune system, as a result of biological evolution, protects higher organisms against a multitude of possible invaders. To do this, it develops remarkable abilities during the lifetime of an individual.

For the last three decades health authorities thought that antibodies known as B cells- a type of immune cell- had no purpose and were actually dangerous, causing autoimmune disorders. They were considered “Bad Apples” of the immune system.

And guess what? Turns out this couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Australian scientists from the Institute of medical research Garvan, through their study have now suggested that these immune cells can become a weapon against microorganisms that can “trick” the immune system.

Usually autoreactive lymphocytes are “sleep mode”, but no useful role they have not been able to find, so for scientists it remains a mystery why the body does not get rid of these cells completely. The authors of the new scientific work in experiments on mice concluded that the DNA of these cells can be slightly modified, thus opening their unexpected potential.

Far from remaining silent, the cells can be rapidly ‘redeemed’ ­– and then activated to attack – when the body is faced with a disease threat that other immune cells cannot tackle.


the process of this ‘redemption’, each cell rapidly acquires changes to the antibody gene it carries. Together, the changes mean that the cells can produce antibodies that no longer threaten the body – but instead become highly potent weapons to fight disease.

Importantly, antibodies from the redeemed cells are equipped to attack some of the trickiest microbes that the immune system faces: those that evade detection by disguising themselves to look like normal body tissue. Campylobacter, HIV and other microbes disguise themselves as ‘self’, and are problematic targets for the immune system, which systematically avoids attacking ‘self’.

Professor Chris Goodnow, who co-led the new research, says the new findings will fundamentally change thinking about how the immune system protects us.

“We once thought that harmful immune cells were discarded by the body – like a few bad apples in the barrel. Likewise, no one had any idea that you could start with a ‘bad’ antibody and make it good. From these new findings, we now know that every immune cell is precious when it comes to fighting invading microbes – and we’ve learned that the immune system recycles, conserves, and polishes up its ‘bad apples’ instead of throwing them away.”

“We’re excited about the impact of this new understanding on vaccine development,” adds A/Prof Christ. “Our findings indicate that there’s a whole class of B cells out there – the silenced B cells – that might be accessible for vaccine development, and that have so far largely been ignored.”

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