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Search for Origin of Vertebrate Adaptive Immunity in The Sea Lamprey

While all living beings use innate immune mechanisms to defend themselves against foreign invaders, only jawed vertebrates possess specific adaptive immunity, the cardinal elements of which include T cell receptors for antigens, antibodies, and major histocompatability (MHC) genes. The adaptive immune system evolved around 500 million years ago to provide immunological memory and protection against recurrent infection with the same agent. To understand better how innate and adaptive immunity work together, the project seeks to identify the building blocks for adaptive immunity in sea lamprey, one of two living representatives of jawless vertebrates. These experiments will identify genes that are selectively expressed by lamprey lymphocytes, the cell type responsible for adaptive immune responses in higher vertebrates, and genes expressed by phagocytic cells, key types of cells for innate immune responses. Genes selectively expressed in these lamprey cell types will be compared with genes in higher vertebrates that are known to participate in innate and/or adaptive immunity.<br/>The goal is to elaborate features of innate and, possibly, the adaptive immune systems that have allowed lampreys to survive for the last 500 million years. These studies will provide insight into how the adaptive immune system evolved in concert with innate immunity to allow higher vertebrates, including humans, to survive constant invasion by a variety of infectious microorganisms and toxins. The information could also be helpful in devising means for biological control of predator sea lamprey that have devastated fish populations in the Great Lakes of North America. This research effort will be conducted in the intellectual environment of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and will offer lectures, seminars, and research training to undergraduate and graduate students and others in the community who are interested in the important field of comparative immunology.

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