Newly identified cell population key to immune response

Mar 06, 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."

Explore further: US scientists make embryonic stem cells from adult skin

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

Provided by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

4.8 /5 (4 votes)

Related Stories

Strengthening the tumor-fighting ability of T cells

Mar 24, 2008

Researchers may have found a new way to promote immune cell attack on tumors. The new study, by a team of scientists in Milan, Italy, will be published online on March 24 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Towards improved immunotherapy

Dec 01, 2008

A study published by Elsevier this month in Clinical Immunology, the official journal of the Clinical Immunology Society (CIS), describes a new method that facilitates the induction of a specific type of immune suppressive cells, ...

Promising new target emerges for autoimmune diseases

Sep 01, 2009

University of Michigan scientists say they have uncovered a fundamentally new mechanism that holds in check aggressive immune cells that can attack the body's own cells. The findings open a new avenue of research ...

When helper cells aren't helpful

May 24, 2010

Current research suggests that T helper-type 1 (Th1) cells, previously thought to mediate autoimmunity, may actual inhibit the development of experimental immune encephalomyelitis (EAE), a mouse model of multiple sclerosis ...

Recommended for you

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

Apr 18, 2014

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

New pain relief targets discovered

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have identified new pain relief targets that could be used to provide relief from chemotherapy-induced pain. BBSRC-funded researchers at King's College London made the discovery when researching ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cancer stem cells linked to drug resistance

Most drugs used to treat lung, breast and pancreatic cancers also promote drug-resistance and ultimately spur tumor growth. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have discovered ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.