T cells have been called the “watchdogs” of the immune system. They monitor the body for threats, and attack invading agents when needed.
A single activated T cell can divide into daughter cells with different jobs. One becomes a rapidly dividing attack cell — an effector T cell — and the other a long-term sentinel, called a memory T cell.
St. Jude scientists have discovered how this process works. The results may open new avenues into immune therapies that harness the immune system to fight disease.
The crux is a signaling protein called c-Myc. The scientists found that a dividing T cell prompts the production of more c-Myc in one of its daughter cells, which triggers attack dog properties, such as rapid proliferation. The other daughter cell makes less c-Myc and becomes a slow-dividing memory T cell.
“Our work suggests that it may be possible to manipulate the immune response by nudging production of c-Myc in one direction or the other,” said Douglas Green, PhD, chair of St. Jude Immunology. “Potentially that could mean more effective vaccines or help to advance T-cell immune therapy for cancer treatment.”
The work was published in Nature.