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Skin cells form quick defense

20 Apr 2009

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Scientists at the University of Melbourne have discovered the local action of immune cells in the skin, which could improve treatment of viral skin infections.

This work identifies previously unrecognised first-line defence mechanisms that are particularly important in barrier locations such as the skin and the gut, often used as portals of entry by viruses and bacteria.

Researchers examined two aspects of anti-viral immune responses by studying the cells involved in the initial stimulation of the immune response, and the cells that remember past infections to boost the response after re-infection. They did this by using a model infection with herpes simplex virus – a virus best known for causing cold sores but also associated with life threatening diseases in certain individuals and newborns.

The work was published in two articles in the advanced online March and April editions of the journal Nature Immunology.

The April article details findings on the function of the cells that trigger the initial immune response to viral infection – known as dendritic cells.

"Dendritic cells are like police patrolling our blood and tissues for anything unusual. There are many different types of them, so we wanted to examine how they differ in their function," said Dr Sammy Bedoui, from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, who is the lead author on the April paper.

Using an animal model of skin infection with the cold sore virus, researchers showed for the first time that a particular type of dendritic cells was responsible for triggering the immune response. These cells do this by presenting virus particles to killer T cells, which triggers a cascade of immune responses to tackle infection.

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