A study says that specialised immune cells, discovered by Australian researchers, could become instrumental in designing an anti-tuberculosis (TB) vaccine.
The joint study by the Australian universities of Melbourne and Monash has revealed that the highly abundant mucosal associated invariant T cells (MAIT cells), which recognise products of vitamin B synthesis from bacteria and yeast, help activate the immune system.
The research revealed how by-products of bacterial vitamin synthesis, including some derived from folic acid or vitamin B9 and riboflavin or vitamin B2, could be captured by the immune receptor MR1, thus fine-tuning the activity of MAIT cells, the journal Nature reports.
"Humans are unable to make vitamin B and obtain it mostly from diet. Because bacteria can synthesise vitamin B, our immune system uses this as a point of difference to recognise infection," said Lars Kjer-Nielsen from the University of Melbourne, who led the study, according to a Melbourne statement.
"Given the relative abundance of the MAIT cells lining mucosal and other surfaces, such as the intestine, the mouth and lungs, it is quite probable that they play a protective role in many infections from thrush to tuberculosis.
"This is a significant discovery that unravels the long sought target of MAIT cells and their role in immunity to infection," Kjer-Nielsen added.
James McCluskey, professor of microbiology and immunology at Melbourne, said the discovery opened up opportunities for vaccine development and other potential therapeutics.
"This is a major breakthrough in which Australian researchers have beaten many strong research teams around the world, becoming the first to unlock the mystery of what drives a key component of our immune system," he said.