Immune cells defend against parasites

Leishmaniasis affects 12 million people in the tropics, as well as dogs and other mammals. The parasite is transmitted by sand flies, and causes skin ulcers that can sometimes lead to disfiguring tissue damage. But a new study offers clues for a vaccine.   

In a study published July 27 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine researchers discovered that after infection with the parasitic disease leishmaniasis, a population of T cells with a memory for the parasite remained in the skin.

Like previous research that showed this to happen with viral infections, these memory T cells set up residence in particular tissues, ready to respond to reinfections.

This study is the first instance that a group of T cells has been found to be resident in a tissue in response to a parasite infection.

The study’s findings not only show that resident CD4 T memory cells play a key role in protecting against reinfection. They also hold crucial clues for how to produce an effective vaccine for leishmaniasis and possibly other infections. Currently no vaccine exists for leishmaniasis.

“Now that we know the important role that these resident cells play, we want to design vaccines that generate these tissue-homing cells,” said Phillip Scott, PhD, BS, and lead researcher. 

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