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Researchers discover how the body uses vitamin B to recognize bacterial infection

19 OCT 2012

An Australian research team has discovered how specialised immune cells recognise products of vitamin B synthesis that are unique to bacteria and yeast, triggering the body to fight infection.

The finding opens up potential targets to improve treatments or to develop a vaccine for tuberculosis.

The study, jointly led by the University of Melbourne and Monash University and published today in the journal Nature, has revealed for the first time that the highly abundant mucosal associated invariant T cells (MAIT cells), recognise products of vitamin B synthesis from bacteria and yeast in an early step to activating the immune system.

The research revealed how by-products of bacterial vitamin synthesis, including some derived from Folic acid or vitamin B9 and Riboflavin or vitamin B2, could be captured by the immune receptor MR1 thus fine-tuning the activity of MAIT cells.

Dr Lars Kjer-Nielsen from the University of Melbourne led the five year study.

“Humans are unable to make vitamin B and obtain it mostly from diet. Because bacteria can synthesise vitamin B, our immune system uses this as a point of difference to recognise infection,” he said.

“Given the relative abundance of the MAIT cells lining mucosal and other surfaces, such as the intestine, the mouth, lungs, it is quite probable that they play a protective role in many infections from thrush to tuberculosis.

“This is a significant discovery that unravels the long sought target of MAIT cells and their role in immunity to infection.”

Professor James McCluskey of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne said the discovery opened up opportunities for vaccine development and other potential therapeutics.

“This is a major breakthrough in which Australian researchers have beaten many strong research teams around the world, becoming the first to unlock the mystery of what drives a key component of our immune system,” he said.

Monash University’s Professor Jamie Rossjohn said the findings had major implications for understanding the interplay between gut bacteria and the immune system.

“Some vitamin by-products appear to drive immunity while others dampen it,” Professor Rossjohn said.

The next step is to explore whether MAIT cells might also be involved in intestinal or mucosal disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

“This discovery now cracks open a new field in immunology and we can expect many research groups to focus their attention on this system,” Professor Rossjohn said.

“The discovery also involved collaborators at Melbourne’s Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute, Metabolomics Australia and the University of Queensland, reflecting the importance of collaboration between researchers to be globally competitive,” Professor McCluskey said.

Study: Parenting More Important Than Schools to Academic Achievement
New research from North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University and the University of California, Irvine finds that parental involvement is a more significant factor in a child’s academic performance than the qualities of the school itself.

“Our study shows that parents need to be aware of how important they are, and invest time in their children – checking homework, attending school events and letting kids know school is important,” says Dr. Toby Parcel, a professor of sociology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. “That’s where the payoff is.”

Study finds parental involvement more important than the school itself when it comes to academic achievement.

The researchers evaluated data from a national representative study that collected information from more than 10,000 students, as well as their parents, teachers and school administrators.

Specifically, the researchers looked at how “family social capital” and “school social capital” pertained to academic achievement. Family social capital can essentially be described as the bonds between parents and children, such as trust, open lines of communication and active engagement in a child’s academic life. School social capital captures a school’s ability to serve as a positive environment for learning, including measures such as student involvement in extracurricular activities, teacher morale and the ability of teachers to address the needs of individual students.

The researchers found that students with high levels of family social capital and low levels of school social capital performed better academically than students with high levels of school social capital but low family social capital. “In other words, while both school and family involvement are important, the role of family involvement is stronger when it comes to academic success,” Parcel says.

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