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Innate and Adaptive Immunity

Our immune system is comprised of an intricate network of receptors, cells, and molecules – all working together to provide protection against infection. An understanding of how these different components interact to induce immunity is critical for developing vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics that fight infectious diseases, including cancer, allergies and autoimmunity.  While the innate immune system recognizes varieties of infectious agents, many infectious agents have evolved strategies to avoid innate recognition or functions. In the process, they conquer our primary defense mechanisms. To counteract this response, scientists at the Emory Vaccine Center are focusing on inducing adaptive immunity when the innate immunity is compromised. Rare cells of the adaptive system, called T and B cells, bearing specific receptors against a given pathogen-derived peptides can proliferate and differentiate into a “ready to go” mode when appropriately primed along with activation of the innate components. These differentiated T and B cells provide surveillance against the specific pathogen by circulating throughout the body and persisting for many years. Thus, memory lymphocytes provide the most effective way of mounting a stronger and more effective immune response against an antigen (or pathogen) during the secondary encounter, leaving us better able to resist it in the future. To devise better and effective vaccines, we need to understand how innate and adaptive immune systems interact together to generate the most efficient immune memory.

The EVC program on innate and adaptive immunity encompasses multidisciplinary approaches by investigators of diverse expertise supporting fundamental and translational studies. Primary research questions  surround the mechanisms by which innate and adaptive immune systems interact together in response to infections or vaccines and the translation of this knowledge into clinical applications to protect against infection and or disease. This framework enables investigators to exploit the natural capacity of the innate immune system to initiate and sustain appropriate T and B cell responses to novel vaccines against infectious agents.

The EVC’s cross disciplinary programs provide novel insights into human immune responses against infectious pathogens and increased understanding of the molecular mechanisms responsible for the effectiveness, durability and the fine tuning of protective immunity against vaccines and infectious diseases. Specifically, Dr. Rafi Ahmed’s lab examines the factors governing memory and T and B cell differentiation. Work in Dr. Murali-Krishna Kaja’s lab examines aspects of innate and adaptive system interactions to provide most efficient memory. Dr.Bali Pulendran’s lab utilizes system biology approaches to discover novel pathways important for inducing optimal immunity, and Dr Max cooper’s lab examines the evolutionary aspects of the immune system. Understanding how competitive antigens and costimulation affect plasma cell differentiation is the focus of Dr. Joshy Jacob’s lab. Dr. John Altman’s lab probes antigen-specific T-cell repertoire by developing MHC tetramer technologies, and researchers working with Dr. Sam Speck examine how viruses evade host immune responses.