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Development of important immune cells relies on more complicated influences than scientist had thought

Research by Penn Cancer Center's Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute shows it isn't all 'nurture' in the nature vs. nurture debate about how cells develop

Researchers studying the way immune cells differentiate have discovered that an important family of white blood cells divides into separate identities in a much more complicated fashion than current scientific theory has held. Led by Steven L. Reiner, MD, of the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute at the Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, the researchers have overturned existing scientific belief that helper T cells are programmed to differentiate only by outside signals.

Instead, the researchers have shown that Th1 and Th2 cells -- which are involved in inflammatory and allergic responses, respectively -- develop in a delicate chronological pattern, and in response to both internal and external influences.

The finding, which will be published in the June 8 issue of the journal Science, clears a new path for inquiry in the development of drugs that can create reinforcements for the body's army of immune cells. "The cell isn't just a tabula rasa -- a blank slate completely open to outside instructions. The cell is actively making decisions on its own that are sometimes hard for us to see," said Reiner, an Associate Investigator for the Abramson Institute and an Associate Professor in Penn's Department of Medicine.

Establishing how these white blood cells develop will someday help scientists to manipulate their production, increasing the supply of Th1 cells to fight against some parasite-caused illnesses or intracellular bacterial infections such as tuberculosis, or pumping up the supply of Th2 cells to combat autoimmune diseases and extracellular microbes such as intestinal worms.

In their work, Reiner and his colleagues scrutinized the cascade of events that follow when uncommitted cells are exposed to a protein factor call
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Contact: Ellen O'Brien
ellen.obrien@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5659
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
6-Jun-2001


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