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: Life's extremists may be an untapped source of antibacterial drugs

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

Cohesin molecule safeguards cell division

Nov 21, 2014

The cohesin molecule ensures the proper distribution of DNA during cell division. Scientists at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna can now prove the concept of its carabiner-like ...

Nail stem cells prove more versatile than press ons

Nov 21, 2014

There are plenty of body parts that don't grow back when you lose them. Nails are an exception, and a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reveals some of the r ...

Scientists develop 3-D model of regulator protein bax

Nov 21, 2014

Scientists at Freie Universität Berlin, the University of Tubingen, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) provide a new 3D model of the protein Bax, a key regulator of cell death. When active, Bax ...

Researchers unwind the mysteries of the cellular clock

Nov 20, 2014

Human existence is basically circadian. Most of us wake in the morning, sleep in the evening, and eat in between. Body temperature, metabolism, and hormone levels all fluctuate throughout the day, and it ...

User comments : 0

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.