Professor Kai-Michael Toellner and Dr Yang Zhang

Dr Yang Zhang and Professor Kai-Michael Toellner, in collaboration with Dr Heather Long, have been awarded Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBRSC) project grant to study the migration of memory B cells.

The project, titled 'Role of memory B cell migration through the lymph node subcapsular sinus', will run until September 2021. This newly-funded project is studying the development of memory B cells and their migration through lymphoid organs.

Memory B cells are thought to give us long term immune memory after encountering vaccines or infection. Instead of producing protective antibody, memory B cells travel through our body and into other tissues. The project will try to understand which cells they encounter during this journey, their specific interactions with other cells, and what the immunological functions of these interactions are.

Professor Toellner’s group focuses on the development of antibody responses in lymphoid tissues, and studies signals that direct B and T cell differentiation leading to antibody and memory B cell production during vaccination or infection. This long term protection from infection is mediated by long-lived antibody forming cells (AFC) and memory B cells, and make part of our immune memory.

Collaborations with Dr Heather Long and Professor Daniel Pinschewer, of the University of Basel, who have extensive experience in the analysis of immune responses to virus infections, will help understand how memory B cell migration may aid the development of immunity to virus infection.

A recent publication by the group, published in April in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, studied the differentiation of high affinity antibody forming cells (AFC) after vaccination. The study identified the timing and migratory pathways of AFC during the early stages of an immune response. It showed critical signals inducing the differentiation of AFC, including interactions with T follicular helper cells producing IL-21, and interactions with a newly identified stromal cell niche, producing chemoattractants and AFC differentiation stimulating cytokines IL-6 and APRIL.