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Immune cells show long-term memory

Almost a century after exposure to the 1918 Spanish flu, survivors’ white blood cells still recognize the virus

12:23pm, August 17, 2008

Even after 90 years, the immune system doesn’t forget the face of a mass-murderer. A new study shows that survivors of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic still have immune cells that remember the culprit virus.

Such long-lived immunity was thought to be impossible without periodic exposure to the microbe that stimulated the immune system in the first place. But a study published in advance online August 17 and slated for an upcoming issue of Nature reveals that immunity to a virus can last nearly a century.

“This is a really extraordinary finding,” says Peter Palese, a virologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City who was not involved in the study. “It’s like immunological archaeology.”

Previous research showed that elderly people have antibodies that can recognize the 1918 flu virus, but that those antibodies usually also latch on to more recent viruses of the

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