Helper cells trigger potent responses to HIV

Sep. 12, 2013 — A major new finding that will significantly advance efforts to create the world’s first antibody-based AIDS vaccine was published today by researchers from the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.La Jolla Institute scientist Shane Crotty, Ph.D., a respected vaccine researcher and member of one of the nation’s top AIDS vaccine consortiums, showed that certain helper T cells are important for triggering a strong antibody response against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Helper T cells are disease-fighting immune cells key in shaping the body’s response to viruses or other pathogens. The cells are multi-faceted, come in various types, and have numerous functions, including assisting with antibody production.”We’ve shown that a specific type of these cells, known as follicular helper T (Tfh) cells are not only necessary, but are a limiting factor that differentiates between an average and a potent antibody response to HIV,” says Crotty, a scientific collaborator with the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology & Immunogen Discovery (CHAVI-ID), a major research consortium led by The Scripps Research Institute.Notably, Crotty showed that the frequency of the Tfh cells correlated with development of broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV in a large group of HIV-infected individuals. The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative put together the group of study participants, and collaborated on the analysis.Dennis Burton, Ph.D., a prominent HIV expert who heads the CHAVI-ID consortium at Scripps, calls the finding “the kind of fundamental basic research that will eventually allow us to defeat HIV.””Shane Crotty and his collaborators have made an important step in understanding how potent antibodies to HIV can be made, a step which is vital to the effort to develop an AIDS vaccine given that antibodies are critical to most successful vaccines,” says Burton. “Crotty is a world expert on the cells that control antibody production and, by teaming up with AIDS researchers, he and his group have shown how these cells can be tracked in blood and provided evidence of their importance in generating the right types of antibody to HIV.”The findings were published online today in the journal Immunity in a paper entitled, “Human circulating PD-1+CXCR3-CXCR5+ memory Tfh cells are highly functional and correlate with broadly neutralizing HIV antibody responses.”Antibodies may be thought of as the body’s smart bombs, which seek out infectious agents and tag them for destruction. Twenty-six human vaccines currently exist worldwide, 24 of which work by triggering the production of antibodies. Tfh cells are a type of CD4+ T helper cells specialized in providing help to B cells, which are the cells that make antibodies. “Essentially it’s the Tfh cells that tell the B cells to produce antibodies,” explains Crotty.No vaccine currently exists for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and there is no cure for AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), which currently infects 34 million around the globe. While AIDS drugs have extended the lives of many sufferers, AIDS remains a major killer, particularly in developing countries, making the search for an effective HIV vaccine a public health priority.In his study, Crotty used blood samples from HIV-infected patients and a control group of people without the disease. …

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