Newly identified cell population key to immune response

March 6, 2011
Dr. Axel Kallies from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and his colleagues have used molecular signatures to identify a key cell population responsible for regulating the body's immune response. Credit: Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have identified the key immune cell population responsible for regulating the body's immune response.

The finding could have wide-ranging repercussions for the treatment of , organ transplantation and cancer, and change how the efficacy of newly developed drugs is measured.

The discovery was made by Dr Erika Cretney, Dr Axel Kallies and Dr Stephen Nutt from the institute's Molecular Immunology division. It centred on a population of called regulatory T cells.

Regulatory T cells (T-regs) are responsible for limiting the immune response. Disorders that decrease T-reg activity can lead to autoimmune disorders such as or coeliac disease, while increased T-reg activity can suppress the immune system when it should be actively killing cancerous or infected cells.

Dr Kallies said the research team had used molecular signatures to identify which cells within the regulatory T cell population were responsible for suppressing immune responses.

"It turns out that the bulk of cells which are classified as regulatory T cells may not do much," Dr Kallies said. "In this study we have identified a distinct group of effector regulatory T cells, or 'active T-regs', which are the key drivers of immune response regulation."

Dr Nutt said the research had implications for clinical trial outcomes.

"Researchers often measure regulatory T cell numbers in clinical trials as a parameter for establishing whether there has been a positive immune response," Dr Nutt said. "We have shown that the absolute number of regulatory T cells isn't as important as the presence of this particular active regulatory T cell population."

Dr Nutt said the research showed that mice without active T-reg developed severe autoimmune , which is fatal.

"Not having this T cell population in the gut causes the to go into overdrive and attack the body's own cells," he said. "A lack of the factor that is needed to generate active T-reg cells has also been implicated in human genome-wide studies of Crohn's disease. So it would seem that this cell population is strongly linked to the development of autoimmunity."

Dr Cretney said that re-defining the active subset of the T-reg population would give researchers the ability to develop new ways to increase or block their activity in the body. "The next step for my research is to look at the function of this active T-reg population in autoimmunity and in cancer."

Dr Kallies said that for these reasons, there was a lot of excitement in the medical community about regulatory T cells. "Clinicians have shown that regulatory T cell activity impacts on many therapies," he said. "Many research teams are trying to manipulate and expand these cells for therapeutic use. Our finding will transform the way that researchers look at immune responses and open new avenues for treating diseases such as autoimmunity and cancer."

More information: The research appears on the cover of today's edition of Nature Immunology.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Molecular hitchhiker on human protein signals tumors to self-destruct

July 24, 2017
Powerful molecules can hitch rides on a plentiful human protein and signal tumors to self-destruct, a team of Vanderbilt University engineers found.

Researchers develop new method to generate human antibodies

July 24, 2017
An international team of scientists has developed a method to rapidly produce specific human antibodies in the laboratory. The technique, which will be described in a paper to be published July 24 in The Journal of Experimental ...

New vaccine production could improve flu shot accuracy

July 24, 2017
A new way of producing the seasonal flu vaccine could speed up the process and provide better protection against infection.

A sodium surprise: Engineers find unexpected result during cardiac research

July 20, 2017
Irregular heartbeat—or arrhythmia—can have sudden and often fatal consequences. A biomedical engineering team at Washington University in St. Louis examining molecular behavior in cardiac tissue recently made a surprising ...

Want to win at sports? Take a cue from these mighty mice

July 20, 2017
As student athletes hit training fields this summer to gain the competitive edge, a new study shows how the experiences of a tiny mouse can put them on the path to winning.

'Smart' robot technology could give stroke rehab a boost

July 19, 2017
Scientists say they have developed a "smart" robotic harness that might make it easier for people to learn to walk again after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.