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Memory B cells protecting against mutant viruses

Specialised memory cells found in our immune system play an important role in our ability to fight virus mutations, such as those produced by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to research.

So-called virus escape mutants are variants of a virus that are typically produced when the body’s immune system is weak. The immune system can control the virus, but cannot prevent the mutated viruses from spreading.

A person with a normal immune response is able to suppress these mutants, but the mechanisms by which this happens are poorly understood.

A team at the University of Birmingham discovered an important role played by memory B cells. These work alongside the regular B cells that learn to produce highly specific antibodies in response to an infection.

While antibodies are highly specific to a target pathogen, memory B cells make antibodies that bind in a non-specific way.

The researchers found the reason for this lack of specificity was that memory B cells are interacting with other white blood cells, called phagocytes, which work to suppress pathogens by engulfing them.

The memory B cells work alongside phagocytes to continuously screen for mutant virus variants. Because their function is not specialised, when they discover an antigen, they can kick-start a protective antibody response.

Professor Kai-Michael Toellner, said: “These findings enable us to better understand how people are protected in long-term virus infections, such as HIV. It represents a major shift in how we think about immune memory, which may affect how we understand virus infection, and immune-deficient patients.”


Image credit | Shutterstock

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