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Antibody Response to Flu Shaped by Pre-Existing Immunity

Kateryna Kon / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

encountered pathogens. Vaccinations work

protection from future infections. But if the

by exposing the immune system to a small

virus mutates and is significantly different,

amount of virus, which causes B cells to

the memory B cells can no longer recognize

develop a biological memory to the virus.

the viral proteins, potentially leading to

If the body encounters the same virus later,

infection.

the immune system is alerted to attack and
eliminate the virus.
But in order to be protected, the viral

For this reason, the human body is pitted
in an evolutionary arms race with the flu.
Because influenza viruses rapidly evolve

proteins of the infecting strain must

and mutate each season, our immune

typically match those of the strain used in

system has trouble recognizing the viral

the vaccine. The memory B cells are like

surface proteins on new influenza strains.

keys that fit and bind to the locks-the

As a result, our bodies often rely on old

viral proteins. These memory B cells can

antibodies to fight new influenza strains;

survive for decades, providing long-lasting

this is possible because some parts of

22 |

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