Penn study demonstrates new way to boost immune memory

PHILADELPHIA – After a vaccination or an infection, the human immune system remembers to keep protecting against invaders it has already encountered, with the aid of specialized B-cells and T-cells. Immunological memory has long been the subject of intense study, but the underlying cellular mechanisms regulating the generation and persistence of long-lived memory T cells remain largely undefined. Now, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers have found that a common anti-diabetic drug might enhance the effectiveness of vaccines. The findings are described this week in an advanced online publication of Nature.

In this study, an experimental preventive vaccine was made more efficacious by boosting numbers of cancer fighting T cells with the anti-diabetic drug metformin. This resulted in a larger population of memory immune cells that were able to fight off a tumor at a later time.

"We serendipitously discovered that the metabolizing, or burning, of fatty acids by T cells following the peak of infection is critical to establishing memory in those T cells," says senior author Yongwon Choi, PhD, Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. "As a consequence, we used the widely prescribed anti-diabetic drug metformin, which is known to operate on fatty-acid metabolism, to enhance this process."

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