Researchers in the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy have discovered a new target recognised by local T-cells involved in immunosurveillance in the gut.
Published in Immunity, the collaborative research project, which started around 18 months ago, involved partners from The Francis Crick Institute and Kings College London.
The new research provided molecular insights into how local immunosurveillance works in solid tissues rather than blood, and has implications for understanding unconventional T cells function in infection, inflammation and during the development of tumours.
It focussed on an unconventional cell type, gamma delta T cells, and defined molecular targets directly sensed by these cells, and how they are recognised.
Researchers defined the molecule butyrophilin-like 3 (BTNL3) as a target of recognition by gut gamma delta T cells, and showed it was directly recognised by the key ‘T cell receptor’ on their surface.
Professor Ben Willcox from the Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy, said: “These findings will help us understand how local T cells maintain gut tissue in a healthy state, and also how these processes go wrong in inflammatory conditions. Key to this might be that the presence of BTNL molecules on gut epithelial cells is a marker of normality.
“The findings may help devise a way to harness the function of local T cells to deliver signals that could dampen damaging inflammatory responses, or potentially increase immune detection and elimination of early gut cancers.”
Researchers will now take these findings forward to find out what precise functions are affected by recognition of this key target. In the future they hope this fundamental research will have the potential impact to develop of novel immunotherapies targeted at exploiting the unusual capabilities of local unconventional T cells.