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Old mystery solved, revealing origin of regulatory T cells that 'police' and protect the body

as was previously proposed by the clonal selection theory, but also through clonal conversion, as demonstrated in the current study.

The findings open new avenues in which to further explore the function of regulatory T cells in autoimmune disease and in cancer, the researchers say.

For example, mice experiments show that if regulatory T cells are destroyed, the animals will develop arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. So, if scientists can determine precisely how Hassall's corpuscles and dendritic cells turn T cells into regulatory T cells, it may be possible to "convert" the errant T cells that promote an immune response in tissue into regulatory T cells, thus suppressing such disorders, Liu says.

Similarly, the discovery may help provide clues as to how cancer cells use regulatory T cells to work on their behalf, he says. One of the beneficial roles of regulatory T cells is to suppress the immune system (thus inactivating the damage caused by errant T cells), but "in cancer patients, regulatory T cells become troublemakers, because they suppress any natural reaction the immune system might have mounted to fight the cancer," Liu says.

"It may be that cancer is converting normal T cells into regulatory T cells to protect itself, and once we know the molecular language by which Hassall's corpuscles and dendritic cells induce regulatory T cells, then we might understand how tumor cells also do this," he says.


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Contact: Nancy Jensen
nwjensen@mdanderson.org
713-792-0655
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
11-Oct-2005


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