DNA arrays give clues to better vaccines

"We are in the midst of a revolution in the way researchers study infectious diseaseinstead of depending on culture dishes as the only way to observe the behavior of pathogens, scientists are able to eavesdrop on the cross talk between invading microbes and the immune cells of our body," says Richard Young of the Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research. Youngs lab has done this using DNA microarrays to explore the responses of human macrophages to a variety of bacteria, and as a result, has found clues to making safer, more potent vaccines.

Macrophages, immune cells that are part of the first line of defense, recognize and engulf microbes in a vigilant effort to keep the body healthy. The researchers found that macrophages respond to a broad range of bacteria by sending off an alarm to the rest of the immune system and transforming into a cell primed to mount an immune response.

Further study revealed that the macrophage didnt have to "see" the whole bacteria to send off its alarm signal, but the presence of specific bacterial components, such as proteins and sugars, induced activation. "These findings will help researchers design therapeutics that will stimulate the immune system in a targeted manner, perhaps with fewer side effects," says Young, lead author on the study, which will appear in the February 5 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The interplay between a persons immune mechanisms and a microbes attempts to circumvent these defenses represents a complex relationship. DNA arrays help researchers dissect this struggle by measuring the activity of many genes in the immune cells as they respond to pathogens. As a result, researchers gain invaluable information about the strengths and vulnerabilities of the microbes and our own immune system during an infection," explains Gerard Nau, a first co-author on the study and a researcher in the Young lab. Ann Schlesinger, postdoctoral fellow in the Young lab, and Jo

Contact: Nadia Halim
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research

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