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Extracellular Vesicles Boost T-Cell Response to Infection

A human T cell.
Credit: Seth Pincus, Elizabeth Fischer, Austin Athman/ National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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As a major component of the immune system, T cells play a critical role in fighting off viral infections. A team led by Prof. Thomas Brocker and Jan Kranich from LMU’s Biomedical Center has demonstrated in a mouse model that so-called extracellular vesicles play an important part in the stimulation of these cells.

Extracellular vesicles are tiny membrane particles that are secreted by cells and play a role in cell-to-cell communication. Using a newly developed method, the scientists were able to show that already activated killer T cells – a subcategory of T cells which directly attack diseased cells – engage intensively with these vesicles. This gives the T cells an extra activating “boost,” which has the effect of promoting their proliferation and increases activation of various genes that are needed to combat the infection.

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Another unexpected finding of the study was that the number of vesicles in the serum decreased after infection, whereas their number increased on T cells in the spleen. From this, the authors concluded that the binding of vesicles to cells is enhanced after an infection. “Extracellular vesicles essentially function as a ‘danger signal’ for T cells, indicating that the infection has not yet been eliminated,” says Kranich. “We hope to be able to use this discovery in future for therapeutic approaches aimed at strengthening the T cell response to viruses and tumors.”

Reference: Rausch L, Flaskamp L, Ashokkumar A, et al. Phosphatidylserine-positive extracellular vesicles boost effector CD8+ T cell responses during viral infection. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2023;120(16):e2210047120. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2210047120

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