T-regulator cells have become an important area of immunology, says John P. Atkinson, M.D., the Samuel B. Grant Professor of Medicine and professor of molecular microbiology, who led the study. But no one has known how to grow them in the laboratory. These findings will let that promising research move forward.
Research using laboratory-grown Tr1 cells could lead to new treatments for autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and for organ rejection following transplantation, and could provide a better understanding of measles, meningitis and other infectious diseases.
We now can take a blood sample from someones arm, culture selected cells from that sample and a few days later have a nice population of T-regulatory cells, says first author Claudia Kemper, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Atkinsons laboratory. To be able to manipulate the activity of Tr1 cells for future therapeutic use relies heavily on knowing the factors required for their differentiation and function.
In 1985, Atkinsons team discovered a protein known as CD46 on cell surfaces. Usually this protein protects cells from being destroyed by a component of the immune system known as complement.
In this study, Kemper and her colleagues found that stimulating CD46 and a second cell-surface molecule known as T-cell receptor caused certain kinds of immune cells called T lymphocytes to grow, divide and give off a substance known as interleukin-10 (IL-10).