Plasma cells are created when the immune system is exposed to viruses or bacteria. The bone marrow is like a long-term storage facility for plasma cells, allowing them to continue producing antibodies to protect against future infections. Until now, it was not clear why some plasma cells moved into the bone marrow while others remained in the blood stream and perished after a few days. A new research has now revealed that a protein is responsible for preserving the antibody-producing cells that lead to long-term immunity after infection or vaccination.
Kim Good-Jacobson from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne said, "When our immune system encounters a new pathogen, it can create plasma cells that secrete antibodies to specifically prevent future infections, generating immunity."
The research team discovered that when the gene that produces the protein called Myb was removed, plasma cells were no longer able to move into the bone marrow to provide long-term immunity.
Good-Jacobson said, "Myb is a type of protein called a transcription factor, which binds to DNA and, in effect, switches genes 'on' or 'off'. If we can understand how to flip the molecular switch in plasma cells and activate Myb production, we might be able to encourage the immune system to create long-term immunity for a range of infections."
The study appears in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.