Gene That Regulates Immune Cell Response Identified

A certain gene that triggers the self-destructive process of immune cells that makes it attack other parts of the body has recently been identified. This process has been related to the development of auto-immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found in a mice study that those without the Batf gene lacked a certain type of inflammatory immune cell and were found to be resistant to a procedure that would have otherwise induce an autoimmune reaction similar to human MS.

Lead author Barbara Schraml, Ph.D. have found out that the loss of the Batf gene in mice also affected the immune cells known as T cells which normally promote the defensive responses as well as recruit inflammatory cells to sites of infection in the body. Without the Batf gene, the absence of inflammatory cells such as the Th17 was also seen.

Although the Th17 cells help defend the body from bacterial infections under normal conditions, they can also draw in other immune cells to the site. Such cells rushing into the site can instigate an autoimmune response which can then lead to harmful results.

The Batf gene is considered as a transcription factor, meaning that the protein made from the said gene acts as a switch to turn the production of protein on other genes on and off. The study showed that the Batf gene had to be present in order for the Th17 cells to produce ROR-gamma-T, a gene known to force T cells to become Th17 cells.

According to senior author Kenneth Murphy, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pathology and immunology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, "Batf allows immune cells to head down a pathway that’s been a very hot topic in immunology because of its potential links to autoimmune disease. We showed that Batf regulates the only other gene previously revealed to control this pathway, so Batf may have quite a bit to teach us about autoimmunity."

"Normally transcription factors do not make ideal drug targets, but our Batf-knockout mice provide a unique tool to find the other proteins that are important in the development of Th17 cells. Those proteins could be good targets for treatments for autoimmune diseases," added Dr. Murphy.


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