The immunomodulatory effects of host defence peptides on dendritic cells

Modern day vaccines are effective at preventing infections such as tetanus, influenza, polio and many others. To ensure full protection from illness, some vaccines require more than one immunization. This is commonly known as a booster shot. In developed countries, getting vaccinated usually means nothing more than going to the clinic. In developing countries the process is not so straight forward. Limited access to, and availability of vaccines makes widespread immunization a difficult process. The fact that people may have to return for a booster shot only compounds the problem. For all of the above reasons, there is clearly a need for improved vaccines in developing countries. Our laboratory is studying ways to create effective single-dose neonatal vaccines for developing countries. This means the vaccine would be given shortly after birth, and there is no need for a booster shot to ensure complete protection. Such a vaccine would alleviate the previously described difficulties. Specifically, our lab is developing more effective vaccine adjuvants. An adjuvant is simply any component added to a vaccine that will interact with the immune system to improve protection. We believe that a class of proteins known as host defence peptides (HDPs) will act as effective vaccine adjuvants. HDPs are short proteins, found almost ubiquitously in nature (microorganisms, insects, plants and mammals for example). Historically, the function of HDPs has been primarily to kill invading bacteria and viruses. Recent research conclusively shows that some HDPs are capable of altering the way in which immune system responds to an infection. My research will focus on how HDPs interact with and important type of immune cell known as a dendritic cell. Dendritic cells (DCs) circulate in the body in an ""immature"" form. When they encounter anything foreign (for example, bacteria or viruses), they become ""activated,"" capture the invader, and alert the immune system so it can mount a full response. They are now said to be ""mature."" For this reason, DCs are a very unique type of cell. They are part of the front line of defence, yet they are also critical in generating the full immune response, which develops shortly after. We believe that HDPs will influence DCs in such a way that they will promote an efficient immune response in the context of vaccination. I hypothesize that HDPs impact DC function, activation, and maturation by altering specific genes and proteins important to DCs. This hypothesis has lead me to develop five goals to guide my research. I will provide an overview of these goals: 1) Bioinformatics. My preliminary experiments have tracked how HDPs influence the expression of 16,000 genes in mouse DCs. Such a large amount of data needs to be handled by a computer. Using specially designed programs, I am able to sort through the vast amounts of data and determine the broad trends occurring in response to HDPs. Furthermore, I am able to look at how small groups of genes behave in the context of their larger gene families; 2) IRAK-4. Results show that one peptide altered the behaviour of an important protein called IRAK-4. IRAK-4 is known to be important for specific immune responses. I will further analyze how this protein functions in the presence and absence of HDPs and other immune stimuli in DCs. I will also determine how proteins related to, and dependent on IRAK-4 will behave in response to HDPs; 3) Lyn Kinase. Another interesting finding was the altered production of Lyn, another protein important for proper DC function. I will continue analyzing the behaviour of Lyn in DCs in response to HDPs. I will also study the consequences of Lyn deficiency and determine its effects on HDP function. 4) DC Type. There are different types of DCs depending on where in the body you look, each performing similar, yet distinct functions. Currently it is not known how different types of DCs respond to HDPs. A lot of DC research is done with mouse DCs because they are relatively easy to generate compared to their human counterparts. The comparative responses of human and mouse DCs to HDPs are not well understood. For these reasons, I will be experimenting in multiple DC types, and in both human and mouse DCs. 5) In vivo peptide effects. Using the previously described experiments as a guide, I will examine how HDPs affect whole mice. We have access to mice deficient in all of the genes listed above, and this will be useful in determining the role of specific genes on the scale of a whole animal. At the completion of this project, I will have gained a comprehensive understanding of how HDPs influence DCs, with the goal of using this information to provide better vaccine adjuvant candidates aimed at developing countries.