With a discovery that could prompt a rewrite of immunology textbooks, an international group of scientists, including the research teams of Bart Lambrecht, PhD; Martin Guilliams, PhD; Hamida Hammad, PhD; and Charlotte Scott, PhD (all from the VIB-UGent Center for Inflammation Research) identified a new type of antigen-presenting immune cell. These cells, which are part of an expanding family of dendritic cells, play a crucial role in presenting antigens to other immune cells during respiratory virus infections, and could explain how convalescent plasma helps to boost immune responses in virus-infected patients. When our body faces an infection, it responds with inflammation and fever. This is a sign that the immune system is doing its work, and leads to the activation of many cells, like soldiers in an army. Dendritic cells (DCs) are the generals of that army. They can precisely activate and instruct the soldiers to kill infected cells by presenting antigens derived from the “invaders” to cells of the immune system. There are several types of DCs that perform antigen-presenting functions in the body. A first type of conventional DCs continuously scans the body for dangerous invaders, even when there is no infection. When there is inflammation triggered by infection, another subset of DCs emerges from inflammatory monocytes. Because monocyte-derived DCs are easily prepared in vitro from monocytes isolated form human blood, it was always assumed these cells were very important antigen-presenting cells. Clinical trials using monocyte-derived DCs in cancer therapy have, however, been disappointing.
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