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A Study Reveals What Triggers Lung Damage during COVID-19
A longitudinal study of macrophages from SARS-CoV-2 infected lungs offers new insights into dynamic immunological changes A KAIST immunology research team found that a specific subtype of macrophages that originated from blood monocytes plays a key role in the hyper-inflammatory response in SARS-CoV-2 infected lungs, by performing single-cell RNA sequencing of bronchoalveolar lavage fluid cells. This study provides new insights for understanding dynamic changes in immune responses to COVID-19. In the early phase of COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 infected lung tissue and the immediate defense system is activated. This early and fast response is called ‘innate immunity,’ provided by immune cells residing in lungs. Macrophages are major cell types of the innate immune system of the lungs, and newly differentiated macrophages originating from the bloodstream also contribute to early defenses against viruses. Professor Su-Hyung Park and his collaborators investigated the quantitative and qualitative evaluation of immune responses in the lungs of SARS-CoV-2 infected ferrets. To overcome the limitations of research using patient-originated specimens, the researchers used a ferret infection model to obtain SARS-CoV-2 infected lungs sequentially with a defined time interval. The researchers analyzed the 10 subtypes of macrophages during the five-day course of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and found that infiltrating macrophages originating from activated monocytes in the blood were key players for viral clearance as well as damaged lung tissue. Moreover, they found that the differentiation process of these inflammatory macrophages resembled the immune responses in the lung tissue of severe COVID-19 patients. Currently, the research team is conducting a follow-up study to identify the dynamic changes in immune responses during the use of immunosuppressive agents to control hyper-inflammatory response called ‘cytokine storm’ in patients with COVID-19. Dr. Jeong Seok Lee, the chief medical officer at Genome Insight Inc., explained, “Our analysis will enhance the understanding of the early features of COVID-19 immunity and provide a scientific background for the more precise use of immunosuppressive agents targeting specific macrophage subtypes.” “This study is the first longitudinal study using sequentially obtained immune cells originating from SARS-CoV-2 infected lungs. The research describes the innate immune response to COVID-19 using single cell transcriptome data and enhances our understanding of the two phases of inflammatory responses,” Professor Park said. This work was supported by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and KAIST, and was published in Nature Communications on July 28. -PublicationSu-Hyung Park, Jeong Seok Lee, Su-Hyung Park et al. “Single-cell transcriptome of bronchoalverolar lavage fluid reveals sequential change of macrophages during SARS-CoV-2 infection in ferrets” Nature Communications (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-24807-0) -ProfileProfessor Su-Hyung ParkLaboratory of Translational Immunology and Vaccinologyhttps://ltiv.kaist.ac.kr/ Graduate School of Medical Science and EngineeringKAIST
KAIST Vaccine for Tick-Borne Disease ‘SFTS’ Protects Against Lethal Infection
A KAIST research team reported the development of a DNA vaccine for Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome Virus (SFTSV) which completely protects against lethal infection in ferrets. The team confirmed that ferrets immunized with DNA vaccines encoding all SFTSV proteins showed 100% survival rate without detectable viremia and did not develop any clinical symptoms. This study was published in Nature Communications on August 23. Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (SFTS) is a newly emerging tick-borne infectious disease. The disease causes fever, severe thrombocytopenia, leukocytopenia as well as vomiting and diarrhea. Severe cases end up with organ system failure often accompanied by hemorrhages, and its mortality rate stands at 10–20%. The viral disease has been endemic to East Asia but the spread of the tick vector to North America increases the likelihood of potential outbreak beyond the Far East Asia. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also put SFTSV into the priority pathogen requiring urgent attention category. Currently, no vaccine has been available to prevent SFTS. The research team led by Professor Su-Hyung Park noted that DNA vaccines induce broader immunity to multiple antigens than traditional ones. Moreover, DNA vaccines stimulate both T cell and antibody immunity, which make them suitable for vaccine development. They constructed DNA vaccines that encode full-length Gn, Gc, N, NS, and RNA polymerase genes based on common sequences of 31 SFTSV strains isolated from patients. Their vaccine candidates induced both neutralizing antibody response and multifunctional SFTSV-specific T cell response in mice and ferrets. To investigate the vaccine’s efficacy in vivo, the research team applied a recently developed ferret model that recapitulates fatal clinical symptoms in SFTSV infection in humans. Vaccinated ferrets were completely protected from lethal SFTSV challenge without SFTSV detection in their blood, whereas all control ferrets died within 10 days’ post-infection. The KAIST team found that anti-envelope antibodies play an important role in protective immunity, suggesting that envelope glycoproteins of SFTSV may be the most effective antigens for inducing protective immunity. Moreover, the study revealed that T cell responses specific to non-envelope proteins of SFTSV also can contribute to protection against SFTSV infection. Professor Park said, “This is the first study demonstrating complete protection against lethal SFTSV challenge using an immunocompetent, middle-sized animal model with clinical manifestations of SFTSV infection. We believe this study provides valuable insights into designing preventive vaccines for SFTSV.”
Activation of Bystander Immune Cells during Acute Hepatitis A.
A KAIST research team has identified a process of tissue damage caused by bystander immune cells in acute viral infections. This research will pave the way for research to understand the principles of tissue damage in viral infections and immune diseases, and can point toward a possible therapeutic target for the treatment. Upon viral infection, viral replication itself destroys human cells, but in some cases, viral replication is not the direct cause of the tissue damage. In particular, the destruction of infected cells is the primary cause of tissue damage during non-cytopathic viral infections such as hepatitis A virus, hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus. However, the underlying pathological mechanisms involved in the tissue damage during viral infections have not been fully elucidated. Specificity is one of the most important characteristics of the immune system. In general, infection from a certain virus specifically activates immune cells targeting the virus, while other immune cells specific to different viruses remain inactive. An immune cell not specific to an infected virus is called a bystander immune cell. A phenomenon that activates irrelevant immune cells not originally targeting the infecting virus, called the activation of bystander immune cells, is already known to the world; however, its clinical significance has not been investigated thoroughly. Professor Eui-Cheol Shin and Professor Su-Hyung Park from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering analyzed patients with acute hepatitis A, in collaboration with Chung-Ang University Hospital. The team found not only immune cells specifically targeting the hepatitis A virus were activated, but also bystander immune cells were activated and involved in the damaging of liver tissues during acute hepatitis A. According to the research, when a person is infected with hepatitis A virus, hepatitis A virus-infected cells produce IL-15, which induces the activation of bystander immune cells. Activated bystander immune cells exert innate-like cytotoxicity, triggered by activating receptors NKG2D and NKp30 and this can lead to liver injury. Through describing the cause of excessive tissue damage during acute viral hepatitis, the research outcome is expected to provide critical contributions for the development of potential therapeutic intervention that can minimize tissue damage caused by viral hepatitis and immune disorders. Professor Shin said, “This is a novel research case that discovered the clinical significance of bystander immune cell activation, which was previously unknown. We will continue to work on establishing treatments which could prevent tissue damage in viral and immune diseases in the future.” This research was published in Immunity on January 2. Figure 1. Graphical abstract
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