New research has found that some T cells secrete cytokines that may help fight against fungal infections and autoimmune illnesses. T cells are a type of white blood cell that help protect the body against infection. Different T cells have different functions in helping fight infection. T helper cells, for example, secrete cytokines that attract other immune cells to the infection site. These cells can also counteract inflammation.
The new study, led by Professor Christina Zielinski of the Friedrich Schiller University, discovered a cytokine in Th17 cells that was proinflammatory. Cytokines are small proteins that play an important role in controlling the activity and growth of other immune system cells while Th17 cells are a subset of T helper cells that produce interleukin 17 (IL-17).
The cytokine the researchers discovered, Il-1α, stimulates activity genes involved in inflammation and immunity. It is said to be involved in autoimmune illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis.
The first author of the study, Ying-Yin Chao, revealed that their objective was to determine how IL-1α was made in T cells as well as how it was secreted. After conducting a series of experiments, the researchers observed that unlike other cytokines IL-1α was produced by inflammasome in T cells. Inflammasome is a multiprotein complex that induces inflammation in response to infectious molecules and microbes derived from host proteins.
Zielinski, who heads the Department of Infection Immunology at the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology, revealed that until now, it was not known that T cells had an inflammasome that could be rewired to produce IL-1α.
The researchers also made another discovery, observing that gasdermin E was responsible for providing a transport pathway out of the cells. The study’s second author, Alisa Puhach, explained that gasdermin E helped form pores in cell membranes, making it easy to export IL-1α from T cells. Gasdermin E is a member of the gasdermin E protein family, which is involved in the mediation of programmed cell death.
The researchers also observed that the release of IL-1α was restricted to a subset of Th17 cells, noting that other types of T helper cells did not produce it. They also conducted experiments to determine the role the cytokine played in fungal infections, finding that Th17 cells with antigen specificity for Candida albicans secreted IL-1α.
The researchers are now focused on identifying other illnesses where gasdermin E plays a role. Their findings were published in “Nature Immunology.”
These insights about the previously hidden functions of some T cells add to the growing body of knowledge being accumulated by frontline pharma companies such as BiondVax Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (NASDAQ: BVXV), as they strive to develop more effective treatments for autoimmune conditions.
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