New research reveals how the maternal antibodies block an immune response to measles virus. The finding is a first but decisive step towards a major upgrade of the current childhood immunization practices.
Maternal antibodies passed to the fetus during pregnancy and the newborn in breast milk.
The antibodies protect infants against the disease in the first months of life, but the protection has a cost: its presence also interferes with the generation of a natural immune response to vaccination. As a result, the majority of infants receive measles vaccine at age 12 to 15 months, when maternal antibodies disappear.
Years of studies have led to the development of the theory that maternal antibodies to measles virus protected so that cells generate an immune response fail to detect the pathogen. If that were the case, little can be done.
However, the team of Stefan Niewiesk and Dhohyung Kim, Ohio State University has shown a completely different mechanism in an animal model.
The results indicate that maternal antibodies bind to a specific receptor that sends a message to stop the activation of the immune response to vaccination.
The authors of the new study also determined that the signals for the immune response can be manipulated, and are already devising ways to design vaccines that circumvent this natural process.