Immune cells come in a variety of ‘flavours’

Immune cells come in a variety of ‘flavours’

Virally infected cells
June 2015

Professor Stephen Nutt, Dr Wei Shi and Associate Professor Lynn Corcoran
Professor Stephen Nutt, Dr Wei Shi and Associate Professor
Lynn Corcoran (L-R).

Researchers have revealed the unique signature of critical antibody-producing immune cells, showing the cells come in a variety of ‘flavours’.

The research identified potential targets for treating diseases of antibody-producing cells, including cancers such as multiple myeloma, and immune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Immunity that lasts a lifetime 

Antibody-producing cells, or plasma cells, are specialised immune cells that produce large amounts of antibodies. Antibodies are vital for lifelong immunity to infection, such as after immunisation. Each plasma cell is capable of making one specific type of antibody against a specific disease.

Plasma cells live in the bone marrow, where they account for only one in 1000 cells, but they are the cells that impart lifelong immunity.

Associate Professor Lynn Corcoran, Professor Stephen Nutt, Dr Wei Shi and colleagues used complex biological and mathematical techniques to map the ‘transcriptome’ of plasma cells. The transcriptome reveals which genes are switched on and functioning in the cell.

Associate Professor Corcoran said the gene signature revealed that each plasma cell had its own flavour. “We showed that each plasma cell has a unique pattern of activity mapped in its transcriptome,” she said.

“The pattern denotes its ‘flavour’, telling the story of how it was activated, where it lives in the body, and potentially what infections it fights. We were surprised to find a number of genes were active that hadn’t previously been identified a important in immune cells.

“This gives us a host of new genes to look at in search of potential therapeutic targets for cancers of plasma cells, such as myeloma,” she said.