Recent advances in immunology research have uncovered extensive and amazing knowledge of how many cells and other factors of the immune system identify antigens and diseased cells. However, there remain many gaps in knowledge, and filling these will help achieve even more impactful breakthroughs in the immunotherapy and vaccine arena. The Human Vaccines Project is a nonprofit organization with the goal to contribute to the development of vaccines and immunotherapies by understanding the human immune system at a deeper level.
An aspect of immunity involves the function of B lymphocytes (or B cells) that secrete antibodies. A protein expressed on B cells and other immune cells (CD40) is crucial for normal B cell action. CD40 interacts with a protein (CD40L) present on T cells that also contributes to B cell stimulation. This CD40-CD40L interaction is important for normal immune function. However, exaggerated B-cell responses to CD40 occur in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. It has been shown that B cells from patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) are stimulated by CD40 to multiply significantly more than in healthy patients.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects 2.5 million people worldwide and about 400,000 people in the U.S. alone. This neurological condition is an autoimmune disease caused by the attack of the body's own nerve tissue by the immune system. For MS, altered T cells attack the myelin sheath of nerve cells. The myelin sheath is a fatty cellular substance that is actually an extension of glial cells (the support cells of the nervous system). The myelin sheath, which is structured somewhat like a solenoid, is wrapped or coiled around some nerves of the body and functions to increase the speed of nerve impulses through the nerve cell. The destruction of this sheath is responsible for the various neurological symptoms caused by MS (vision problems, loss of balance, limb weakness, etc.).
The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a common virus that is found all over the world and can cause mononucleosis and other diseases in people with compromised immune systems. The John Cunningham virus (JC virus) is another common virus with up to 90% of adults in the U.S carrying the virus. However, most do not have any symptoms or illnesses with the virus, but those with suppressed immune systems (people with AIDS or taking immunosuppressive medications) can develop illnesses due to the JC virus.
Autoimmune disorders develop when the body’s immune system does not distinguish between the body’s own cells and antigens. The destruction by the immune system of normal tissues is the basis of autoimmune diseases. The search for effective treatments or cures for autoimmune disorders depends on understanding the factors involved in immune cell function.