August 28, 2013

Probing intestinal immune cell roles

A new in vitro system will allow investigators to explore how immune system T cells develop specialized functions.

T cells that express the surface protein CD4 can mature into distinct types of T cells with specialized immunological functions, including a subset that co-expresses the protein CD8alpha. These CD4/CD8 T cells reside primarily in the intestinal mucosa in mice and in humans, but little is known about their development and functions.

Danyvid Olivares-Villagómez, Ph.D., and Luc Van Kaer, Ph.D., now have established an in vitro differentiation system that stimulates the maturation of CD4 T cells into CD4/CD8 T cells, using the factors TGF-beta, IL-7 and IFN-gamma. The in vitro differentiated T cells have regulatory capacity and signaling factor production that are very similar to CD4/CD8 T cells isolated from the intestinal mucosa.

The new system, described last month in PLOS ONE, should provide a powerful tool for understanding the differentiation of CD4/CD8 T cells and their roles in immune responses. The findings could shed light on aberrant immune reactions in the intestines that cause ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

This research was supported in part by a pilot grant from the National Institutes of Health-funded Digestive Disease Research Center at Vanderbilt (DK058404) and by additional grants from the NIH (AI072471, AI070305, HL089667, DK081536).