Scientists at OMRF think they have solved a riddle that has puzzled researchers since the 1970s.
For more than three decades, researchers have debated whether two types of pathogen-fighting cells—known as B1 and B2 cells—come from the same source. At long last, OMRF scientists appear to have found an answer.
That work could have important implications for human health, potentially leading to new insights for treating infections and certain types of cancer.
Led by Paul Kincade, Ph.D., OMRF researchers have found a “primitive” cell—one that can transform into different types of cells—that can become either a B1 or B2 cell that fights infections and disease in the immune system. The study appears in the upcoming edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
B cells are small white blood cells that are crucial to the body’s immune defenses. They come from bone marrow and develop into blood cells that produce antibodies, which fight pathogens like bacteria and viruses.
“When we think of B cells, we most often think of B2 cells,” said Kincade, who holds the William H. and Rita Bell Chair in Biomedical Research at OMRF. “Those are the ones that create specific antibodies to bacteria or viruses and then remember how to kill them again, even if we don’t encounter the same disease until years down the line.”
But while B2 cells make targeted attacks against invaders, B1 cells act more quickly and attack with antibodies that can kill a wider range of diseases.
“The antibodies created by B2 cells are like mouse traps or fly paper—they’re perfect for killing that one specific thing,” said Brandt Esplin, the study’s lead author. “B1 cells are more like a can of poison fog, because they kill a whole bunch of different pathogens.”
Finding that the two come from a common ancestor in human bone marrow is big news, as it adds an important page to scientists’ understanding of how the human immune system works.
“You can’t fix a car’s engine unless you know how the parts work and how they fit together,” he said. “Hopefully, our finding will help us better understand how to fight infections or even to prevent certain types of leukemia.”
The research was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.