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Concept: Innate immune system


Pathogens and the diseases they cause have been among the most important selective forces experienced by humans during their evolutionary history. Although adaptive alleles generally arise by mutation, introgression can also be a valuable source of beneficial alleles. Archaic humans, who lived in Europe and Western Asia for more than 200,000 years, were probably well adapted to this environment and its local pathogens. It is therefore conceivable that modern humans entering Europe and Western Asia who admixed with them obtained a substantial immune advantage from the introgression of archaic alleles. Here we document a cluster of three Toll-like receptors (TLR6-TLR1-TLR10) in modern humans that carries three distinct archaic haplotypes, indicating repeated introgression from archaic humans. Two of these haplotypes are most similar to the Neandertal genome, and the third haplotype is most similar to the Denisovan genome. The Toll-like receptors are key components of innate immunity and provide an important first line of immune defense against bacteria, fungi, and parasites. The unusually high allele frequencies and unexpected levels of population differentiation indicate that there has been local positive selection on multiple haplotypes at this locus. We show that the introgressed alleles have clear functional effects in modern humans; archaic-like alleles underlie differences in the expression of the TLR genes and are associated with reduced microbial resistance and increased allergic disease in large cohorts. This provides strong evidence for recurrent adaptive introgression at the TLR6-TLR1-TLR10 locus, resulting in differences in disease phenotypes in modern humans.

Concepts: Immune system, Gene, Genetics, Natural selection, Bacteria, Evolution, Innate immune system, Genetic genealogy


We randomized 115 children to trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine (TIV) or placebo. Over the following 9 months, TIV recipients had an increased risk of virologically-confirmed non-influenza infections (relative risk: 4.40; 95% confidence interval: 1.31-14.8). Being protected against influenza, TIV recipients may lack temporary non-specific immunity that protected against other respiratory viruses.

Concepts: Immune system, Virus, Vaccination, Innate immune system, Influenza, Avian influenza, English-language films, Influenza vaccine


Schmallenberg virus (SBV) is an emerging orthobunyavirus of ruminants associated with outbreaks of congenital malformations in aborted and stillborn animals. Since its discovery in November 2011, SBV has spread very rapidly to many European countries. Here, we developed molecular and serological tools, and an experimental in vivo model as a platform to study SBV pathogenesis, tropism and virus-host cell interactions. Using a synthetic biology approach, we developed a reverse genetics system for the rapid rescue and genetic manipulation of SBV. We showed that SBV has a wide tropism in cell culture and “synthetic” SBV replicates in vitro as efficiently as wild type virus. We developed an experimental mouse model to study SBV infection and showed that this virus replicates abundantly in neurons where it causes cerebral malacia and vacuolation of the cerebral cortex. These virus-induced acute lesions are useful in understanding the progression from vacuolation to porencephaly and extensive tissue destruction, often observed in aborted lambs and calves in naturally occurring Schmallenberg cases. Indeed, we detected high levels of SBV antigens in the neurons of the gray matter of brain and spinal cord of naturally affected lambs and calves, suggesting that muscular hypoplasia observed in SBV-infected lambs is mostly secondary to central nervous system damage. Finally, we investigated the molecular determinants of SBV virulence. Interestingly, we found a biological SBV clone that after passage in cell culture displays increased virulence in mice. We also found that a SBV deletion mutant of the non-structural NSs protein (SBVΔNSs) is less virulent in mice than wild type SBV. Attenuation of SBV virulence depends on the inability of SBVΔNSs to block IFN synthesis in virus infected cells. In conclusion, this work provides a useful experimental framework to study the biology and pathogenesis of SBV.

Concepts: Immune system, Central nervous system, Nervous system, DNA, Neuron, Gene, Brain, Innate immune system


Innate Defense Regulators (IDRs) are short synthetic peptides that target the host innate immune system via an intracellular adaptor protein which functions at key signaling nodes. In this work, further details of the mechanism of action of IDRs have been discovered. The studies reported here show that the lead clinical IDR, SGX94, has broad-spectrum activity against Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacterial infections caused by intracellular or extracellular bacteria and also complements the actions of standard of care antibiotics. Based on in vivo and primary cell culture studies, this activity is shown to result from the primary action of SGX94 on tissue-resident cells and subsequent secondary signaling to activate myeloid-derived cells, resulting in enhanced bacterial clearance and increased survival. Data from non-clinical and clinical studies also show that SGX94 treatment modulates pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokine levels, thereby mitigating the deleterious inflammatory consequences of innate immune activation. Since they act through host pathways to provide both broad-spectrum anti-infective capability as well as control of inflammation, IDRs are unlikely to be impacted by resistance mechanisms and offer potential clinical advantages in the fight against emerging and antibiotic resistant bacterial infections.

Concepts: Immune system, Inflammation, Bacteria, Microbiology, Virus, Innate immune system, Infection, Antibiotic resistance


Tasmanian devil joeys, like other marsupials, are born at a very early stage of development, prior to the development of their adaptive immune system, yet survive in a pathogen-laden pouch and burrow. Antimicrobial peptides, called cathelicidins, which provide innate immune protection during early life, are expressed in the pouch lining, skin and milk of devil dams. These peptides are active against pathogens identified in the pouch microbiome. Of the six characterised cathelicidins, Saha-CATH5 and 6 have broad-spectrum antibacterial activity and are capable of killing problematic human pathogens including methicillin-resistant S. aureus and vancomycin-resistant E. faecalis, while Saha-CATH3 is active against fungi. Saha-CATH5 and 6 were toxic to human A549 cells at 500 μg/mL, which is over seven times the concentration required to kill pathogens. The remaining devil cathelicidins were not active against tested bacterial or fungal strains, but are widely expressed throughout the body, such as in immune tissues, in digestive, respiratory and reproductive tracts, and in the milk and pouch, which indicates that they are likely also important components of the devil immune system. Our results suggest cathelicidins play a role in protecting naive young during pouch life by passive immune transfer in the milk and may modulate pouch microbe populations to reduce potential pathogens.

Concepts: Immune system, Bacteria, Microbiology, Innate immune system, Adaptive immune system, Marsupial, Tasmanian Devil, Dasyuridae


The innate immune system is strongly implicated in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In contrast, the role of adaptive immunity in AD remains largely unknown. However, numerous clinical trials are testing vaccination strategies for AD, suggesting that T and B cells play a pivotal role in this disease. To test the hypothesis that adaptive immunity influences AD pathogenesis, we generated an immune-deficient AD mouse model that lacks T, B, and natural killer (NK) cells. The resulting “Rag-5xfAD” mice exhibit a greater than twofold increase in β-amyloid (Aβ) pathology. Gene expression analysis of the brain implicates altered innate and adaptive immune pathways, including changes in cytokine/chemokine signaling and decreased Ig-mediated processes. Neuroinflammation is also greatly exacerbated in Rag-5xfAD mice as indicated by a shift in microglial phenotype, increased cytokine production, and reduced phagocytic capacity. In contrast, immune-intact 5xfAD mice exhibit elevated levels of nonamyloid reactive IgGs in association with microglia, and treatment of Rag-5xfAD mice or microglial cells with preimmune IgG enhances Aβ clearance. Last, we performed bone marrow transplantation studies in Rag-5xfAD mice, revealing that replacement of these missing adaptive immune populations can dramatically reduce AD pathology. Taken together, these data strongly suggest that adaptive immune cell populations play an important role in restraining AD pathology. In contrast, depletion of B cells and their appropriate activation by T cells leads to a loss of adaptive-innate immunity cross talk and accelerated disease progression.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Gene, Vaccination, Innate immune system, Humoral immunity, Adaptive immune system, T cell


Comparative genomic and/or transcriptomic analyses involving elasmobranchs remain limited, with genome level comparisons of the elasmobranch immune system to that of higher vertebrates, non-existent. This paper reports a comparative RNA-seq analysis of heart tissue from seven species, including four elasmobranchs and three teleosts, focusing on immunity, but concomitantly seeking to identify genetic similarities shared by the two lamnid sharks and the single billfish in our study, which could be linked to convergent evolution of regional endothermy.

Concepts: Immune system, Gene, Genetics, Organism, Innate immune system, Humoral immunity, Immunity, Shark


Dusquetide, a novel Innate Defense Regulator, modulates the innate immune system at a key convergence point in intracellular signaling pathways and has demonstrated activity in both reducing inflammation and increasing clearance of bacterial infection. Innate immunity has also been implicated in the pathogenesis of oral mucositis (OM), a universal toxicity of chemoradiation therapy (CRT). Testing the hypothesis that dusquetide can mitigate the development and duration of OM, preclinical studies have been completed and correlated with interim results from a Phase 2 clinical study in patients undergoing CRT for head and neck cancer. Dusquetide reduced the duration of OM in mouse and hamster models by approximately 50%, which was recapitulated by the 50% reduction of severe OM (SOM) in the Phase 2 trial. A reduction in the clinical rate of infection was also observed, consistent with previously reported preclinical studies. In aggregate, these results not only demonstrate the safety and efficacy of dusquetide in addressing this unmet medical need, but also provide proof of concept for the translation of dusquetide action between animal models and the human clinical setting, and further support the contention that innate immunity is an important driver for the initiation and continued impact of OM.

Concepts: Immune system, Inflammation, Bacteria, Signal transduction, Virus, Innate immune system, Immunity, Pre-clinical development


Vitamin C is an essential micronutrient for humans, with pleiotropic functions related to its ability to donate electrons. It is a potent antioxidant and a cofactor for a family of biosynthetic and gene regulatory enzymes. Vitamin C contributes to immune defense by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system. Vitamin C supports epithelial barrier function against pathogens and promotes the oxidant scavenging activity of the skin, thereby potentially protecting against environmental oxidative stress. Vitamin C accumulates in phagocytic cells, such as neutrophils, and can enhance chemotaxis, phagocytosis, generation of reactive oxygen species, and ultimately microbial killing. It is also needed for apoptosis and clearance of the spent neutrophils from sites of infection by macrophages, thereby decreasing necrosis/NETosis and potential tissue damage. The role of vitamin C in lymphocytes is less clear, but it has been shown to enhance differentiation and proliferation of B- and T-cells, likely due to its gene regulating effects. Vitamin C deficiency results in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections. In turn, infections significantly impact on vitamin C levels due to enhanced inflammation and metabolic requirements. Furthermore, supplementation with vitamin C appears to be able to both prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections. Prophylactic prevention of infection requires dietary vitamin C intakes that provide at least adequate, if not saturating plasma levels (i.e., 100-200 mg/day), which optimize cell and tissue levels. In contrast, treatment of established infections requires significantly higher (gram) doses of the vitamin to compensate for the increased inflammatory response and metabolic demand.

Concepts: Immune system, Inflammation, Antibody, Bacteria, Antioxidant, Innate immune system, Humoral immunity, Vitamin C


Imatinib mesylate (Gleevec) inhibits Abl1, c-Kit, and related protein tyrosine kinases (PTKs) and serves as a therapeutic for chronic myelogenous leukemia and gastrointestinal stromal tumors. Imatinib also has efficacy against various pathogens, including pathogenic mycobacteria, where it decreases bacterial load in mice, albeit at doses below those used for treating cancer. We report that imatinib at such low doses unexpectedly induces differentiation of hematopoietic stem cells and progenitors in the bone marrow, augments myelopoiesis but not lymphopoiesis, and increases numbers of myeloid cells in blood and spleen. Whereas progenitor differentiation relies on partial inhibition of c-Kit by imatinib, lineage commitment depends upon inhibition of other PTKs. Thus, imatinib mimics “emergency hematopoiesis,” a physiological innate immune response to infection. Increasing neutrophil numbers by adoptive transfer sufficed to reduce mycobacterial load, and imatinib reduced bacterial load of Franciscella spp., which do not utilize imatinib-sensitive PTKs for pathogenesis. Thus, potentiation of the immune response by imatinib at low doses may facilitate clearance of diverse microbial pathogens.

Concepts: Immune system, Cancer, Bacteria, Bone marrow, Innate immune system, Tyrosine kinase, Imatinib, Gastrointestinal stromal tumor