In their most recently published study, her research team genetically engineered mice that over-produce a certain type of white blood cell from a group known as killer T cells. The normal function of killer cells is to attack tumor cells or cells infected with viruses or other pathogens. These T cells have receptors that recognize specific proteins that infected cells display to them, much like holding up a target in a window.
The specific killer T cells examined in this study were CD8+ T cells. The Goverman lab engineered mice to over-produce CD8+cells that recognized myelin basic protein, a predominant protein in the myelin sheath that covers nerves. The major question investigated in the study was whether the genetically engineered mice would exhibit a disease that resembled multiple sclerosis.
The researchers infected the mice with a virus that has itself been engineered to produce myelin basic protein. This infection should activate the CD8+T cells to first attack the virally infected cells making myelin basic protein to eliminate the virus, then kill other cells that make myelin basic protein to wrap around nerves. Killing those cells would destroy the myelin sheath.
As expected, the mice developed a multiple sclerosis-like disease. But the researchers were surprised when viruses lacking the myelin basic protein also triggered the disease.
Additional cross-breeding experiments revealed the existence of two receptors on a few of the CD8+T cells. These cells, engineered specifically to bind to myelin basic protein, also built their own receptors for viruses, and could recognize both. When exposed to cells infected with viruses, they would bind to and destroy them using one receptor. Geared up as if they were beserk, some of these double-agent cells then would head elsewhere to bind their other receptor to cells producing myelin basic protein and ruin the coats on ner
|Contact: Leila Gray|
University of Washington