At Indiana University School of Medicine, scientists are learning more about the role that specific regulatory T cells can have in the immune system’s response as well as how those cells might be altered to develop new therapies for autoimmune disorders and food allergies.
Recent research on regulatory T cells, or Treg cells, that control immunological responses in the body and maintain the immune system’s balance while battling pathogens, was published in Science Immunology.
The immune system serves as the body’s defense against or restriction of infection. Without it, the body wouldn’t be able to fend off attacks from viruses, parasites, bacteria, and other harmful organisms. The body’s immune system is made up of a huge network of cells, organs, proteins, and tissues.
When the immune system overreacts, autoimmune disorders including Type 1 diabetes and lupus, food allergies, and other problems can result. Researchers were able to pinpoint the variations in isoforms that regulate Treg cells and how this impacts the immune system of the body.
“There is a particular gene that controls this regulatory group of T cells, which controls immune response,” said Baohua Zhou, PhD, lead author of the study and associate professor of pediatrics for IU School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics. “Treg cells can help maintain the right balance to help the immune system not respond too strongly or too weakly.”
Numerous diverse substances that the body does not recognize as being its own can trigger the immune system. Antigens are what these are. The proteins found on the surfaces of bacteria, fungi, and viruses are examples of antigens.
There is a particular gene that controls this regulatory group of T cells, which controls immune response. Treg cells can help maintain the right balance to help the immune system not respond too strongly or too weakly.Professor Baohua Zhou
These antigens cause a number of bodily processes to start when they bind to specific receptors on immune cells (immune system cells). For the immune system to function properly, it must be able to differentiate between healthy and sick cells and tissues. By identifying signals known as DAMPS danger-associated molecular patterns, it accomplishes this.
Through alternative splicing, the human gene FOXP3 generates two main isoforms: a longer isoform and a shorter variant. Although the two isoforms are normally produced in humans, it is unknown how differently they regulate the phenotypic and functionality of regulatory T cells.
The results of this study demonstrated that individuals who exclusively express the shorter isoform are unable to maintain self-tolerance and experience the onset of conditions including immunodeficiency, polyendocrinopathy, and enteropathy X-linked (IPEX) syndrome. They identified various ways in which the FOXP3 isoforms control Treg cells and immunological homeostasis.
“Now that we know the different functions of the isoforms, we hope to study how to change them, which could lead to new treatments for autoimmune diseases and allergies,” Zhou said. “We could also potentially manipulate them to keep the body from responding improperly to diseases like cancer. If T reg cells are suppressing the antitumor response, can we change that?”