Especially in AIDS patients, T-cell count is a relative indicator of the body's ability to fight disease. Until recently, however, researchers have understood little about how T-cells are generated.
Now, thanks to what a researcher at the University of Georgia calls a "lucky lab accident," a new "genetic switch" involved in T-cell maturation has been discovered. The finding, published today in Nature Immunology, could help find ways to "restart" T-cell production in older adults and victims of disease such as AIDS.
"What this means is that when these cells grow or differentiate, it is a two-stage process," said Dr. Nancy Manley, an assistant professor of genetics at UGA and an adjunct assistant professor at the Medical College of Georgia. "This puts us a step closer to producing important epithelial cells from the thymus in the lab, though we are a long way yet from being able to turn the production of T-cells back on in the human body."
Co-authors on the research paper were Brian Condie and Dong-ming Su of the University of Georgia and Won-jong Oh and Samuel Navarre of the Medical College of Georgia. The work is supported by a grant by the National Institutes of Health.
The primary vehicle for studying T-cell development in the laboratory is the mouse. Researchers have known for years that a gene called nude--which causes mice to grow without hair of any kind--is also involved in immune response. Thus, mice with the nude gene have no T-cells and as a result have virtually no means of fighting off disease unless they are raised and live in germ-free environments.
In what Manley calls a "lucky accident," the team, in trying to produce a mouse with a fluorescent protein under control of the nude gene, came up with
Contact: Kim Carlyle
University of Georgia