Fetal public Vγ9Vδ2 T cells expand and gain potent cytotoxic functions early after birth.

Research Highlight

Immune cells gain potency soon after birth

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Immune cells that form in the developing fetus expand and mature rapidly after birth, providing a first line of defence against infections. The findings challenge the conventional wisdom that early-life immune responses are fairly weak and point to microbe exposure shaping the immune repertoire of newborns.

A team from the University of Cape Town and elsewhere studied a group of immune cells known as gamma delta T cells that can recognize a broad range of foreign substances.

They found that, within 10 weeks of birth, these T cells from healthy infants were already expanding and differentiating into potent immune attack-dogs, with similar functions to those of immune cells from adults.

Vaccination with the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin jab for tuberculosis — a potent stimulator of gamma delta T cells — did not alter the T-cell response observed in newborns, suggesting that environmental cues are the main drivers of immune cell adaptation in early life.

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  1. PNAS 117, 18638–18648 (2020). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1922595117
Institutions Authors Share
University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa
UCT South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI), South Africa
Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Belgium