Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Investigating the immune system

Immune cells undergo complex processes during their development. If errors occur, the consequences for those who are affected can be fatal. Scientists from the University of Würzburg have now uncovered new details of what happens. These could be a target for new therapies.
As recently as a few decades ago, the following response was feared: following an organ transplant, the patient’s immune system recognizes the transplanted organ as “foreign” and therefore attacks and rejects it. It was not until the discovery, nearly 30 years ago, that the mycotoxin cyclosporin A can prevent the rejection of a transplanted organ that this response lost its capacity to terrify.

“In T cells, which are important cells in the immune system, cyclosporin A inhibits the activation of a group of transcription factors called NFAT factors,” explains Professor Edgar Serfling, a researcher at the University of Würzburg’s Institute of Pathology. At the time, this finding was tantamount to a “revolution in transplantation medicine”. “Thousands of patients owe their lives to cyclosporin A and the inhibition of NFAT factors,” says Serfling.

Now Serfling, his Research Associate Amiya K. Patra, and other scientists at the University of Würzburg have uncovered new details of the interaction between transcription factors and immune cells. Their work has just been published online in the journal Nature Immunology.

The development of T cells

To enable T cells to recognize transplanted organs or pathogenic viruses and bacteria as foreign material, they first have to be “educated”. This education takes place in the thymus – hence the name T cells. There, the immigrant progenitor cells of the cells later known as thymocytes are subjected to various selection processes in which NFAT factors also play an important role. “If errors occur in these processes, this often leads to autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and rheumatism,” explains Serfling. In multiple sclerosis, for example, autoreactive T cells in the brain attack the myelin sheaths of nerve cells, causing the fatal symptoms of this disease.

In the thymus, thymocyte progenitors develop special receptors on their surface where the body’s own transmitter interleukin 7 (IL-7) can dock. After it has docked, IL-7 transmits signals that activate or deactivate numerous genes in the cells. The progenitor cells subsequently divide and evolve into mature thymocytes.
New insights into the development process

As Amiya Patra has now revealed, NFAT factors also play a significant part in these processes: “If a specific NFAT factor is deactivated in mice, the thymocytes remain in their earliest stage of development and no thymus is created,” explains Serfling. However, if the early steps of thymocyte development that are controlled by IL-7 proceed without disruption, the cell soon forms other receptors that are important to its development and the IL-7 receptor disappears.

Though it is not just the absence of the NFAT factor that disrupts cell development; an excess also messes up the process: the development of thymocytes stops, but at a later stage in this case, and again with fatal consequences: “Specific progenitor receptors are created in an uncontrolled manner, with the result that the person affected develops leukemia, and NFAT factors play a critical role in this too,” explains Serfling.

Approach for new therapies

Through their work the Würzburg team has demonstrated that NFAT factors are critically involved not only in the recognition of the body’s own tissue and in immune responses, but also in the “education” of T cells in the thymus. They therefore represent a target structure that will play a key role in therapies for autoimmune diseases and leukemia in the future.

“An alternative NFAT-activation pathway mediated by IL-7 is critical for early thymocyte development”. Amiya K Patra, Andris Avots, René P Zahedi, Thomas Schüler, Albert Sickmann, Ursula Bommhardt & Edgar Serfling; Nature Immunology, doi:10.1038/ni.2507


Prof. Dr. Edgar Serfling, T: +49 (0)931 31-81207,

Robert Emmerich | idw
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Atom-Sized Craters Make a Catalyst Much More Active
30.11.2015 | SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

nachricht Hydra Can Modify Its Genetic Program
30.11.2015 | Université de Genève (University of Geneva)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: How Cells in the Developing Ear ‘Practice’ Hearing

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular chain of events that enables the cells to make “sounds” on their own, essentially “practicing” their ability to process sounds in the world around them.

The researchers, who describe their experiments in the Dec. 3 edition of the journal Cell, show how hair cells in the inner ear can be activated in the absence...

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Urbanisation and migration from rural areas challenging agriculture in Eastern Europe

30.11.2015 | Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Teamplay IT solution enables more efficient use of protocols

30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

Greater efficiency and potentially reduced costs with new MRI applications

30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

Modular syngo.plaza as a comprehensive solution – even for enterprise radiology

30.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

More VideoLinks >>>