The human body contains 600 to 800 lymph nodes, which are specialized organs that trigger immune responses. To be informed of infections in the body, lymph nodes are connected to individual organs via lymphatic vessels. From the organs, the lymphatic vessels carry fluids and special immune cells to the lymph nodes. These immune cells are called dendritic cells; they carry information from the organs to the lymph nodes and pass it on to other immune cells.
Now it is clear: dendritic cells are not solely responsible for this important flow of information. A research team led by immunologist Professor Wolfgang Kastenmüller from Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany, has found that so-called unconventional T cells also migrate continuously from tissues to the lymph nodes and influence immune responses.
This discovery has implications for both vaccination strategies and cancer immunotherapies.
Different subtypes of unconventional T cells
“Each tissue in our body contains different subtypes of unconventional T lymphocytes,” explains Wolfgang Kastenmüller. “Because these cells each migrate to the nearest lymph node, individual lymph nodes also differ in T cell composition. And this has a direct effect on the immune responses of individual lymph nodes.”
For example, a lymph node that has been informed of an infection in the lungs triggers a different immune response than a lymph node that receives its information from the intestine or the skin.
Take advantage of the differences between the lymph nodes
A vaccine given into the skin or muscle, for example, always targets the lymph nodes that are connected to the skin. However, the vaccine may be much more effective if given near other lymph nodes. This consideration also applies to cancer immunotherapies.
“That’s why we want to study next whether we can use the difference in lymph nodes to make vaccinations more effective or to improve immunotherapies against cancer,” explains Professor JMU. Another interesting question is whether differences in lymph nodes can be actively influenced. And it is worth clarifying the importance of new findings with regard to the development of autoimmune diseases and cancer.
Participating research groups / funding
The researchers’ findings were published in the journal “ImmunityMarco Ataide, Paulina Cruz de Casas and Konrad Knöpper, all from Kastenmüller’s team at the JMU Chair of Systems Immunology I, were significantly involved in the work.
Researchers from the Würzburg Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI), the JMU Institute for Molecular Infection Biology (IMIB), the Marseille-Luminy Immunology Center (CIML) and the Medical Clinic II of the University Hospital from Würzburg also participated.
The work was financially supported by the Max Planck Society and by the European Research Council as part of an ERC Consolidator Grant for Wolfgang Kastenmüller.
Source of the story:
Material provided by University of Würzburg. Original written by Robert Emmerich. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.