Research group discovers a new immune system regulator
Academy Professor Riitta Lahesmaa's research group at Turku and Åbo Akademi University, Finland, has discovered a new regulator of the immune system, a key factor that controls development of regulatory T cells. The discovery provides the basis for new strategies for the treatment of both cancer and immune-mediated diseases.
Regulatory T cells are critical controllers of the immune response. The majority of T cells boost the immune response, enhancing the ability to destroy cancer cells, viruses and bacteria. In contrast, regulatory T cells can sometimes suppress the immune system's ability to attack cancer cells, allowing cancer to grow and spread. In these instances, inhibiting or braking the regulatory T cell activity would be beneficial.
"We discovered that a protein called Hypermethylated In Cancer 1, or HIC1, serves as the key regulator of regulatory T cells controlling the expression of a large set of genes contributing to T cell function," says Academy Professor Riitta Lahesmaa. "In addition, with genome-wide methods we show that HIC1 binds to sites in the nucleus that often contain genetic variations associated with immune-mediated diseases. This gives us completely new insights into molecular mechanisms that regulate T cell function and immune response in general."