A team of Belgian scientists has identified a new type of cell that is involved in immune functions in respiratory infections. According to the researchers, this discovery could be a source of hope in the search for treatments for Covid-19.
A new type of immune cell
When our body is confronted with an infection, it reacts with inflammation and fever. This is a sign that the immune system is doing its job and activating many cells, just like soldiers in an army. Dendritic cells are like the generals in that army. They can precisely activate soldiers and instruct them to kill antigen-infected cells. In other words, this triggers an immune response in the body.
Several teams of scientists from the VIB-UGent Centre for Inflammation Research in Belgium, authors of a study published in the journal Immunity, analyzed mice with viral respiratory infections (pneumonia and influenza) using unicellular technologies. This unicellular resolution allowed them to finely separate monocyte-derived cells from dendritic cells during their response to infection.
The researchers found that these monocyte-derived cells exist but contain no antigens. This new type of hybrid cell, scientifically called inf-cDC2, combines monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells and provides a better form of immunity.
A hope in the search for a treatment for Covid-19
“It was a big surprise for us. We were all taught that monocyte-derived cells are excellent antigen-derived cells, especially in inflammation. Now we are showing that this is indeed a new type of hybrid cell that does all the work. This really changes what we know about the immune system and is a very important knowledge to understand viral respiratory infections and other inflammatory diseases,” says Bart Lambrecht, who was involved in the research.
“Thanks to the use of monocellular technology, we have been able to harmonize all the discoveries of recent years and identify the different types of cells. In the future, it will be very interesting to see what other inflammatory conditions these inf-cDC2 occur in and how they can eventually be targeted,” adds her colleague Charlotte Scott.
Researchers also believe that these findings have direct relevance to the current COVID 19 pandemic, which is also caused by a respiratory virus. This is particularly true for the emergency treatment currently being studied, which consists of using the blood plasma of Covid-19 cured patients to treat severe cases of the disease.