An organism's ability to make new antibodies and use them to optimize its own immune defenses is of central importance in the fight against pathogens. In the case of severe infections, the overall relative speed with which an immune response proceeds could mean the difference between life and death. An international team of scientists, among them systems immunologist Prof. Michael Meyer-Hermann of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) of Braunschweig, Germany, has now found that asymmetric division of antibody-producing B cells speeds up the body's immune defenses. Early on, one daughter cell starts making antibodies while the other works at refining its own antibodies. The researchers' findings are due to be published in the upcoming issue of the scientific journal, Cell Reports.
Our immune system produces antibodies as effective long-term weapons against viral or bacterial infections or following vaccination. Antibodies are made in lymph nodes by specialized cells called B lymphocytes. In certain areas within a lymph node - called germinal centers - these B cells first undergo a process of selection.
B cells proliferate, mutate, and thereby change their antibodies. The immune system then checks to make sure whether or not these mutations translate into an improved immune response. If so, the cells in question are selected. The final outcome is the production of optimized antibodies capable of efficiently attaching to a particular pathogen and thereby inactivating it or labeling it for subsequent destruction by phagocytic scavenger cells. "As part of this evolutionary process, the immune system takes turns between chance mutations and best-candidate-selection," explains Michael Meyer-Hermann, Director of the HZI's Department of Systems Immunology and professor of systems biology at the Technische Universit-t Braunschweig. "We are calling it the 'recycling hypothesis'." All of this allows the immune system to make sure that any antibody it produces is maximally effective against the particular pathogen it is looking to fight.