Antibodies targeting viruses work in many ways. Whilst many antibodies protect us from disease, the mechanisms of action for certain antibodies are unknown. Some of these antibodies are highly beneficial to the host, but paradoxically some anti-viral antibodies have harmful effects.
Our recent work has focused on understanding the protective activity of non-neutralising antibodies. These antibodies do not block viral entry into cells, so how most of these are protective in vivo has been a long-standing mystery. We have identified a novel pathway by which non-neutralising antibodies can enhance antigen presentation and boost activation of cytotoxic T cells. This represents a new type of immune synergy between the two arms of the adaptive immune response. Discovery of this new pathway raises many new questions that we are now working to investigate further.
Our ongoing research also aims to unravel the negative activities of antiviral antibodies. We are particularly interested in maternal antibodies, which are transferred from mother to infant to protect against neonatal infections. However, these antibodies can also block the infant response to vaccines. Despite this phenomenon being identified decades ago, the mechanisms underpinning this interference are still a mystery. We are working to discover how maternal antibodies interact with infant antibody responses, which paves the way for development of new vaccine strategies.