LA JOLLA, CA August 31, 2010 In two closely related studies, two teams of Scripps Research Institute scientists have discovered the underlying mechanisms that activate a type of immune cell in the skin and other organs. The findings may lead to the development of new therapies to treat inflammation, wounds, asthma, and malignant tumors.
The results of the two companion studies were published in the September 3, 2010 issue of the prestigious journal Science. Together, the new research sheds light on γδ (pronounced "gamma delta") T cells, an immune cell found within epithelial tissuesthe thin layer of cells that makes up the outermost layer of skin and organs like the intestines and lungs.
"These cells play unique and critical roles in recognition of damage or disease in epithelial tissues," said Scripps Research Professor Wendy Havran, who headed up one of the projects. "Our study identified a new costimulatory molecule for γδ T cells that directs the wound healing abilities of these cells."
The other team, led by Scripps Research Professor Ian Wilson, focused on the underlying mechanisms of γδ T cell costimulation, which until now have remained elusive.
"Our focus was to uncover the molecular details in the cell-signaling process of γδ T cells," said Wilson. "Using x-ray crystallography, we were able to get a three-dimensional view of a costimulatory receptor-ligand pair for γδ T cells. Our two studies, together, move the basic science and understanding of γδ T cells to a new level."
Coaxing Secrets from γδ T cells
Before several recent studies of γδ T cells by scientists at Scripps Research and elsewhere, little had been learned about the activation mechanisms of γδ T cells in the nearly three decades since their discovery. Scientists found that these cells arise early in fetal development in the thymus, and from th
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Scripps Research Institute