Jonathan Braun, M.D., chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, praised the study as laying the groundwork for using T helper cells in a much more aggressive manner. "Helper T cells are mainly understood for their role in regulating other immune cells," he said. "This work reveals how they themselves can be triggered to become the action cells in the immune response. This opens new possibilities for how to manipulate them therapeutically in disease."
Dr. Cheroutre said the transformation of CD 4 helper T cells into killer cells already occurs in the body naturally. "Our finding could help to explain a number of occurrences that we haven't really understood up to this point, such as why some people can be chronically infected with HIV without developing AIDS." In these instances, Dr. Cheroutre is convinced that CD4 helper T cells must be taking over the role of killer cells after the CD8 T cells become exhausted. "It's like the helper cells can come in as reinforcements to keep the virus under control. If we can develop ways to artificially trigger that process, we may be able to significantly help people with HIV and other chronic infections."
While scientists would want to trigger a larger army of virus-specific killer cells in the case of infections, the opposite would be true in inflammation-fueled autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis, said Dr. Cheroutre. "The CD4 T cells are the bad wolves in inflammatory diseases because they often trigger more pro-inflammatory cells which worsen these conditions," she said. "With this knowledge, we may be able to prevent that
|Contact: Bonnie Ward|
La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology