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New immune cell found to be a key to inflammatory diseases

functions, and how it can go awry, is important, Dong says.

T cells are white blood cells that play a variety of roles in the immune system, including the identification of foreign molecules in the body, such as bacteria and viruses, and the activation and deactivation of other immune cells.

T helper cells are specific T cells that have receptors that recognize and bind to fragments (known as antigens) of the invaders that already have been displayed on the surface of other immune system cells. (These T helper cells are also called CD4 T cells since they express CD4 molecules.) Once the antigen has been bound, these T helper cells become activated, and they morph into "effector" cells which then boost an immune response by secreting "cytokine" molecules such as interleukins and interferons.

Before this study, two such different types of effector T helper cells had been known - type I (TH1), linked to the body's response to microbial infection, and type 2 (TH2), which plays a crucial function in production of B cell antibodies and also is associated with development of allergies.

Although TH1 and TH2 are known to produce powerful cytokines - such as interferon-gamma (IFN-g) and allergy-associated interleukin 4 (IL-4), respectively - they are not inflammatory or associated with production of IL-17, which sets off an errant immune response that results in tissue inflammation.

Researchers could not understand the origins of such an inflammatory response in body tissues. The only clue they had was that excess IL-17 molecules are found in arthritic joints, in lungs swollen by asthma and in brain cells that lead to nerve degeneration and the onset of MS. "But we didn't know which T cells were responsible for secreting IL-17," Dong says. To find out where IL-17 came from, the researchers designed a series of cell culture studies and mouse experiments. In brief, they "educated" T helper cells to become IL-17 producing cells. They fo
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Contact: Nancy Jensen
nwjensen@mdanderson.org
713-794-1584
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
2-Oct-2005


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