A team led by MD Anderson scientists report in the journal Nature Medicine that a regulatory T cell expressing three specific genes shuts down the mass production of antibodies launched by the immune system to attack invaders.
“We’ve identified a molecular pathway that creates a specialized regulatory T cell that suppresses the reaction of germinal centers. That’s where immune system T cells and B cells interact to swiftly produce large quantities of antibodies,” says paper senior author Chen Dong, Ph.D., professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Immunology and director of the Center for Inflammation and Cancer.
The discovery of the germinal center off-switch has potential implications for cancer and autoimmune diseases.
“In some types of cancer, the presence of many regulatory T cells is associated with poor prognosis,” he says. “The theory is those cells suppress an immune system response in the tumor’s microenvironment that otherwise might have attacked the cancer.”
Hitting the regulatory T cell off-switch might help against lymphomas and autoimmune diseases, says Dong, while blocking it could permit an immune response against other cancers.
The team received research funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, MD Anderson, the American Heart Association, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Clinical Scientist Development Award and the China Ministry of Science and Technology Protein Science Key Research Project.