Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have identified a major role in promoting wound repair played by a mysterious type of immune cell that resides mainly in the skin and gutthe gamma-delta T cell.
"Very little has been known about the function of these cells until now," says TSRI investigator Wendy Havran, Ph.D., who led the effort that detected this novel function of gamma-delta T cells.
The findings, published in the current issue of the journal Science, should be important for scientists who are interested in treating diseases that arise from epithelial cell disorders, like asthma, psoriasis, cancers, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Havran, who is an associate professor in the Department of Immunology at TSRI, has been studying gamma-delta T cells for several years. Various biological roles for the cells had been postulated by scientists, and many researchers had sought to determine how they might be involved in diseases. Until now these studies only deepened the mystery of the gamma-delta T cell.
A Cell of Known Origin but Unknown Function
What had been learned of gamma-delta T cells in the nearly two decades since their initial discovery was that they arise early in fetal development in the thymus. From there, they migrate to epithelial tissuesthe thin outer layer of cells that makes up the outermost layers of skin and lines organs like the intestines and lungs.
Unlike the canonical T cells of immunologythe white blood cellsmost gamma-delta T cells do not circulate through the bloodstream. Instead, they are the major T cell component of the skin, lung, and intestine, where they take up residence and monitor the neighboring epithelial cells for damage and disease.
Though gamma-delta T cells are the first T cells the thymus produces, this organ nearly shuts off production of them later in development. Throughout life, the body maintains its population of gamma-delta T cells "on-site,"
Contact: Robin B. Clark
Scripps Research Institute