Researchers found that strength of initial contact drives cell fate, according to paper in Nature Immunology.

Scientists from the Scripps Research Institute have discovered what governs the quality and quantity of follicular helper T cells (TFH), which regulate antibody responses and long-term immune protection.

Using mouse models of protein vaccination, the researchers selected adjuvants that drive the greatest TFH-cell response. They showed that the helper T cells with the strongest binding receptor for the foreign protein antigen preferentially became the specialized TFH cells. It is these TFH cells that regulate B cells, antibody class, and affinity.

“It looks as if the strength of that initial contact is driving cell fate,” says Michael McHeyzer-Williams, Ph.D., professor at the Scripps Research Institute. “If the helper T cells have a strong receptor for the antigen the first time they encounter it, they are much more likely to become TFH cells. More TFH cells likely means more B cells, which is the desired result.”

The team defined three transcription factor T-bet–expressing antigen-specific effector helper T cell subsets with distinguishable function, migratory properties, and developmental programming in vivo.

The study appeared in the March 1 online issue of Nature Immunology.

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