T Cell findings boost virus & transplant research

21st March, 2011

Researchers at the University of Dundee have developed new insights into the operation of white blood cells which play a vital role in fighting viral infections and dealing with organ transplants.

Cytotoxic T cells are a subpopulation of white blood cells that have an essential role in fighting fight viral infections. They work by killing the cells in our bodies that are infected with viruses. They also play a key role in how the human body rejects organ transplants.

Now researchers in the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee have provided novel insights about the control mechanisms that allow these cells to execute their role. These provide important information towards developing possible new treatments for autoimmune diseases and treatments to prevent organ rejection following transplantation.

The research was carried out in the Wellcome Trust-funded laboratory of Professor Doreen Cantrell. Additional support came from the Medical Research Council.

\'This work identifies potential new ways to develop treatments to treat autoimmune disease, new treatments to allow organ transplants and new ways to make vaccination more effective,\' said Professor Cantrell.

The research team have published two papers on their latest findings, one in the journal Nature Immunology and another in the journal Immunity. The Nature paper reveals the complexity of protein modifications in cytotoxic T cells for the first time.

The team then unmasked a key molecule that controls the ability of cytotoxic T cells to produce anti viral cytokines. In a second publication in Immunity, the Cantrell group turned its focus to the role of Protein Kinase B (PKB), which in many cell types controls cell metabolism and energy production.

The Cantrell group has shown that this is not the role for PKB in T cells. Instead PKB has an essential role in directing the migration of T cells away from lymphoid organs and towards sites of infection in the tissues.

\'The most significant finding from these two pieces of work is that they identify two different ways that we can manipulate cytotoxic T cell function,\' said Professor Cantrell. \'This is important, for instance, for autoimmune diseases, and also following organ transplantation, as it gives us ideas about how to stop the \'killer\' function of T cells.\'

The work can also inform about new ways to think about how to develop antiviral vaccines.

\'It takes a long time to move laboratory research to the clinic but this exciting new work really opens up new avenues,\' said Professor Cantrell.


The University of Dundee is internationally recognised for its excellence in life sciences and medical research with particular expertise in cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and skin diseases. The University has a top-rated medical school with research expanding from "the cell to the clinic to the community", while the College of Life Sciences is home to some of the world’s most cited scientists and more than 800 research staff from 60 different countries.

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust\'s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. www.wellcome.ac.uk.

For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century. www.mrc.ac.uk.

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Roddy Isles
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University of Dundee
Nethergate, Dundee, DD1 4HN
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E-MAIL: r.isles@dundee.ac.uk
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