In their experiments, Zinkernagel and Doherty found that T lymphocytes from an infected mouse would destroy virus-infected cells from another mouse only if both mice belonged to a genetically identical strain. The T lymphocytes would ignore virus-infected cells taken from a different strain of laboratory mice. Further research showed that in order to kill infected cells, T lymphocytes must recognize two major signals on the surface of an infected cell: those of the infecting virus and certain "self" molecules called major histocompatibility complex (MHC) antigens, which tell the immune system that a particular cell belongs to one's own body. In the experiment, the T lymphocytes from one mouse strain could not recognize MHC antigens from another on the infected cells, so no immune response occurred. The discovery that T lymphocytes must simultaneously recognize both self and foreign molecules on a cell in order to react against it formed the basis for a new understanding of the general mechanisms of cellular immunity.
After leaving the Curtin School in 1975, Zinkernagel served as an associate
professor (1979-88) and full professor (1988-92) at the University of
Zurich and became head of the university's Institute of Experimental
Immunology in 1992.
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