The finding could have wide-ranging repercussions for the treatment of autoimmune diseases, 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 immune cells 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 type 1 diabetes 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 cell populations developed severe autoimmune inflammatory bowel disease, which is fatal.
"Not having this T cell population in the gut causes the immune response 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."
The research appears on the cover of today's edition of Nature Immunology. It was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Research Council and Pfizer Australia.
Penny Fannin | EurekAlert!
Cryo-electron microscopy achieves unprecedented resolution using new computational methods
24.03.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
How cheetahs stay fit and healthy
24.03.2017 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy