Scientists uncover how immune cells sense who they are

Dec 11, 2012

Scientists at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a part of the National Institutes of Health, have demonstrated that DNA previously thought to be "junk" plays a critical role in immune system response. The team's findings were published in Cell and may lead to the identification of new therapeutic targets for the treatment of immune-related disorders.

There are 3.2 billion in the human genome, but only 2 percent are in the regions we call genes, which provide the code for proteins. Up until recently, the role of the rest of the genome was mostly unknown and overlooked.

NIH researchers used whole genome DNA sequencing technology that allowed them to "see" which part of the genomic DNA is actively engaged in supporting various cellular functions. The investigators found that members of the signal transducers and activators of transcription (STAT) protein family play a major role in shaping the identity of the immune system's T . Importantly, when studying the impact of "junk" DNA, they saw that this greater than expected role was made possible by the STAT proteins' regulation of enhancer activity. Enhancers are short DNA regions that are outside the genes, but regulate . While enhancers do not directly code for proteins, they regulate the protein production process.

This work provides an example of how the cellular environment helps determine cell identity. Specifically, the research team demonstrated that STAT proteins act as cellular environmental sensors that, by regulating enhancers residing in the "junk" region of the genome, determine what subtype a T cell becomes. The present work should help clarify how these switches may relate to genetic risk of .

Explore further: Mycologist promotes agarikon as a possibility to counter growing antibiotic resistance

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Controlling inflammatory and immune responses

Jul 12, 2012

Researchers at the IRCM, led by geneticist Dr. Jacques Drouin, recently defined the interaction between two essential proteins that control inflammation. This important breakthrough will be published in tomorrow's print edition ...

Recommended for you

YEATS protein potential therapeutic target for cancer

Oct 23, 2014

Federal Express and UPS are no match for the human body when it comes to distribution. There exists in cancer biology an impressive packaging and delivery system that influences whether your body will develop cancer or not.

Precise and programmable biological circuits

Oct 23, 2014

A team led by ETH professor Yaakov Benenson has developed several new components for biological circuits. These components are key building blocks for constructing precisely functioning and programmable bio-computers.

User comments : 0