The Roslin Institute
Roslin logo

Cattle immune cells could help treat disease

Study defines cells in cattle, in a development that could help tackle infection in cows and people.

Cows in a field
MAIT cells play a role in protecting cattle against bacterial infections, the study showed.

Immune cells newly identified in cattle could help investigate and treat livestock and human diseases, a study involving scientists from the Roslin Institute suggests.

A type of immune cell found in cattle – called mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) – is very similar to the equivalent cells in humans, where they are known to tackle bacterial and viral infections and play a role in wound healing and vaccine response, scientists have found.

Cattle MAIT cells are stimulated by similar biological signals to their human counterparts and play a role in fighting bacterial infections, the study has shown.

Data and tools used in this research will facilitate immunisation and infection studies in cattle, which can be used as models for human infections spread from animals, such as tuberculosis.

Immune response

Scientists used molecules that bind to receptors on MAIT cells to identify and characterise MAIT cells in cattle for the first time.

In cattle, MAIT cells were mainly located in mucosal tissues, which cover internal organs and cavities, as well as in the lymph nodes, which help to fight infection, scientists observed.

The number of MAIT cells found in milk was raised in cows that had mastitis or were infected with the bacteria that cause bovine tuberculosis. This indicates that these cells are involved in the immune response to these two major bacterial infections in cattle.

The study, published in Frontiers in Immunology, was a collaboration between the Roslin Institute, The Pirbright Institute, the Universities of Oxford, Ultrech and Queensland, the University of Melbourne’s Doherty Institute, and the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

The work was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Australian Research Council.

This is the first time that the function and physical characteristics of MAIT cells in cattle have been characterised. Our results were part of an international collaboration and show that these cells play a role in protecting cattle against bacterial infections.

Dr Timothy ConnelleyRoslin Institute

The identification and characterisation of these cells in cattle is a significant first step. Further investigation of MAIT cells in cattle may provide avenues for treating infections in both cattle and humans.

Dr Matthew EdmansThe Pirbright Institute and University of Oxford

** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

Related links

Scientific publication

TB insights may help breed healthier African cattle