Scientists have long sought a better understanding of the human body’s immune responses that occur during various diseases, including cancer and inflammatory diseases.
In a recent study at the University of Missouri, Emma Teixeiro, assistant professor at MU School of Medicine, and her team analyzed how immunological memory — memory that the body’s immune system retains after an infection or a vaccination that helps protect against reinfection — is created and maintained. On it, as well as the role that inflammation plays in shaping that immune memory.
“Our immune system defends us against disease, but it’s a very complex system with many interactions going on, and if it goes downregulated, it could play a role in causing disease,” said Teixeiro, who works at the NextGen Precision Health Institute. MU Campus. “Therefore, our research is focused on better understanding how these immune responses are generated and controlled, specifically by looking at the critical role that T cells play, as T cells help protect the body from infection and may play a role in attacking cancer.”
Using a mouse model, the researchers created different strains of pathogenic bacteria that increased levels of inflammation through the promoter of interferon genes — or sting proteins — within T cells. While many scientists assumed that this increase in inflammation would lead to a stronger immune response and thus stronger immune memory, Teixeiro and her team found the opposite: immune memory diminished.
“Some scientists in the field believe that STING activation may be targeted to improve cancer vaccines or immunotherapies, so gaining a basic understanding of all the interaction mechanisms at play is critical to reducing the chances of unintended consequences or harmful side effects,” said Teixeiro. “We want to better understand how immune memory is regulated, which has implications for potential vaccines or immunotherapies that stimulate T cells in a way that we hope will enhance long-term memory, so our bodies are protected from disease over time.”
While her research is fundamental in nature, Teixeiro’s findings have the potential to contribute to the development of more effective therapies to help patients with cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), STING-related vasculopathy of childhood onset (SAVI), asthma and inflammatory syndromes other chronic.
“The pursuit of knowledge is what drives my curiosity as a scientist,” said Teixeiro. “While there are still more questions to answer, this research is a small step in the right direction, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
“STING controls memory T-cell fitness during infection through mechanisms dependent on endogenous T cells and Indoleamine-pyrrole 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO)” is published in PNAS. Study co-authors are Michael Kwani, Curtis Pretzel, Rebecca Neuth, Karen Knudson, Vikas Saxena, Caitlin Goldenpfenig, Diana Gale, Chris Ray, Peter Lauer, Mark Daniels, and Desara Lauera.