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Researchers in Pathology demonstrated in mice a way to short-circuit uncontrolled autoimmune responses, thereby preventing or curing a serious immune system disease called autoimmune encephalomyelitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord). Such autoimmune diseases are triggered by rampaging immune cells called T-lymphocytes and represent a misguided assault by the immune system on the body.
Normally, a class of immune cells called regulatory T-lymphocytes attempt to curtail overeager immune responses; but in the case of autoimmune diseases, this braking action is inadequate. So Divya Mekala, PhD, and Terrence Geiger, MD, PhD, genetically engineered some regulatory T-lymphocytes to attract and lock onto pathologic T-lymphocytes that were attacking specific targets on the brain and spinal cord in the mice.
Not only did these genetically modified cells stop that first line of pathologic T-lymphocytes, but they also stopped subsequent armies of pathologic T-lymphocytes that entered the battle to attack different targets on the brain and spinal cord. This suggests that one set of regulatory T-lymphocytes genetically modified to trip up an initial army of pathologic T-lymphocytes will work against subsequent armies that are attacking different targets on the same tissues. This would simplify treatment and make this type of approach more practical for use in humans.
This article was prepublished online by the journal Blood.
Last update: February 2005