We’ve all probably heard of pneumonia, or even know someone who has had it. Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. This infection causes the lungs’ air sacs to fill with fluid, making it hard to breathe. The majority of cases of community acquired pneumonia are linked to Streptococcus pneumoniae (the pneumococcus). Because there is a significant chance of developing bloodstream infection in these cases, the fatality rate is high. Even with antibiotic treatments and vaccines, the fatality rate is 20% for young adults and 60% for the elderly. Although the reason why some individuals are more susceptible to this disease and why others are not has been a mystery for decades, scientists have discovered a cell that may provide some answers.
At the University of Liverpool, the Bacterial Pathogenesis and Immunity Group has identified a subset of white blood cells in mice known as TNFR2 expressing regulatory T cells (Tregs).
In class, we learned that T cells were involved in the cell-mediated response of adaptive immunity. During the immune response, T-helper cells are activated by interleukin to recognize the antigen and trigger the cell-mediated and humoral responses. T-memory cells are created to confer future immunity while T-killer cells are created to kill infected or cancerous cells. A subset of T-cells called regulatory T cells also regulate the immune system. During pneumonia infection specifically, these cells are involved in bacteraemic pneumonia resistance through maintaining and controlling frontline immune responses during infection in the lungs.
When these cells are not functioning correctly or are missing, there is excessive and uncontrolled inflammation that results in tissue damage. This allows the bacteria to enter the bloodstream through the disrupted lung tissue barrier and cause sepsis, which is the body’s life-threatening response to infection.
Professor Aras Kadioglu, the leader of the Bacterial Pathogenesis and Immunity Group, stated, “This is a significant finding, which opens the door to potential new therapies which may target and modulate these subset of Tregs to prevent and treat severe invasive pneumococcal diseases.”
This article caught my attention because I have never heard of this subset of T cells before. Given how severe pneumonia is, it will be interesting to see how scientists will use this information to create new life-saving treatments.
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