Programmed cell death drives generation of immune system’s regulatory T cells

2014

Challenge

Without regulatory T cells (Tregs)—a type of immune cell that can be generated in the thymus—an individual would have uncontrolled, lethal inflammation. Despite the importance of Tregs, the cellular and molecular mechanisms controlling their development were a mystery.

Advance

IRP researchers led by WanJun Chen, M.D., discovered that the vital ingredient for making Tregs in the thymus is a molecule called transforming growth factor-beta (TGFβ). They also showed that thymic apoptosis (programmed cell death) plays an important role in helping to develop regulatory T cell generation, also through the production of TGFβ.

Impact

The discovery opens new doors to a complete understanding of how Tregs develop in the thymus. Such findings of the pathways and molecular players involved in Treg cell development and function may enable the identification of molecular targets for developing therapies for people with autoimmune diseases, chronic inflammation, and cancer.

Publications

Konkel JE, Jin W, Abbatiello B, Grainger JR, Chen W. (2014). Thymocyte apoptosis drives the intrathymic generation of regulatory T cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 111(4), E465-73.