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Regulatory T-cells – Protector or Cause of Diseases

Immune system protects the body from infection causing agents. Regulatory T-cells, a part of the immune system, learn in early stages of life itself to recognize// the invaders and defend them. But, researchers have reported that these cells seem to protect certain bacteria, viruses and tumors.

Researchers at the Medical college of Georgia, studied the T-cells in the thymus and their subsequent movement in the body, using a genetically manipulated mice and the technology enabling the detection of antigen receptors. These antigen receptors determine what the T-cells recognize.

They found regulatory T cells learn what to protect while in the thymus and that everything the cells learn may not be good, according to research in the August issue of Immunity.

It is widely believed that regulatory T cells only recognize endogenous body tissue so they can stop T cells that are predisposed to attacking it, says Dr. Leszek Ignatowicz, MCG immunologist and the study’s corresponding author.

By examining receptors on all types of T cells before and after they leave the thymus, researchers found regulatory T cells are very diverse and able to recognize endogenous tissue and invaders, Dr. Ignatowicz says.

Unfortunately, the cells also may not learn to recognize all endogenous tissue which, along with environmental and other factors, can lead to autoimmune disease.

T cell schooling in the thymus peaks in the first six weeks of life in the mouse, which roughly translates to the first 15 years of human life. Those early lessons seem to last a lifetime and the few regulatory cells that develop later will be like the early cells, says Dr. Rafal Pacholczyk, MCG immunologist and lead author.

The findings mean, essentially from the beginning, some people may have regulatory T cells less skilled at keeping the immune system from attacking their bodies and/or too skilled at protecting invaders.

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