Just as referees must sometimes stop a game, at times white blood cells known as regulatory T cells must halt the immune response. Regulatory T cells help prevent runaway inflammation or misguided immune attacks on healthy tissue that lead to diseases like lupus.
Scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital have discovered that a protein widely known for preventing tumors also helps regulatory T cells do their job. The protein is named PTEN. Researchers showed that PTEN partners with another molecule to keep regulatory T cells working properly and to maintain immune system balance. The process helps to control other white blood cells that fuel the immune response.
"This study advances our understanding of the biology of this small but important population of immune cells," said the study's corresponding author Hongbo Chi, PhD, of St. Jude Immunology. "The findings also provide a new focus for researchers working to improve treatment of autoimmune diseases."
The results were published in the scientific journal Nature Immunology.
January 15, 2015