Researchers Discover New Clues For The Initiation And Regulation Of Immune Response

March 06, 1998

HERSHEY, PA-- Researchers at Penn State's College of Medicine have discovered that the development and function of natural T cells are controlled by a molecule called CD1d1.

Natural T cells are specialized cells that are part of white blood cells. These cells are key components of the immune system and help the body fight disease.

In the March 6 issue of Science, Sebastian Joyce, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at Penn State's College of Medicine and his collaborators, Dr. Robert Cotter of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Drs. Jonathan W. Yewdell and Jack R. Bennick of the National Institutes of Health, and their co-workers report a biochemical clue as to how CD1d1 might control natural T cells' function in their paper entitled, "Natural Ligand of Mouse CD1d1: Cellular Glycosylphosphatidylinositol."

"We found that CD1d1 associates with a small chemical component of cells called glycolipids. Glycolipids are fatty acids modified by sugars. Therefore, we predict that cellular glycolipids when associated with CD1d1 transduce signals that "turn-on" natural T cells, which helps the body fight disease," says Joyce.

He adds, "The finding of a cellular glycolipid in association with CD1d1 is just the beginning of the solution of a major puzzle as to how natural T cells control immune function."

Recently, investigators at Harvard Medical School have reported that natural T cells either develop poorly or are dysfunctional in individuals predisposed to or afflicted with autoimmune insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Additionally, investigators at Chiba University in Japan have reported that natural T cells are required for immunity against cancer cells. Thus, how the immunoregulatory natural T cell accomplishes its function is not only of fundamental importance but has clinical relevance.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, International and American Cancer Society.

Joyce and his colleagues are now working to further understand what glycolipid of the host and pathogens specifically "turn-on" natural T cells. Understanding this process should lead to the design of therapeutics for diseases such as autoimmune diabetes, cancer and persistent bacterial and parasitic infections.

Leilyn Perri
(717) 531-8604

M. Steven Bortner
(717) 531-8606

Penn State

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