Did you know immune cells can sense nutrients? A new study from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has identified the biological mechanism behind the phenomenon. The type of immune cells with these special abilities are called T cells. These play a critical role in immunity and cancer, battling against foreign particles and unwanted dysregulation around the body.
The purpose of this mechanism is to ensure the immune response has enough power behind it to act effectively. This concept in immunity is called “bidirectional metabolic signaling.”
The key players involved
The findings, published in Nature, managed to identify key enzymes in the process. Using the cutting edge technique CRISPR, the team scoured 20,000 genes to find ones that coded for the involved proteins. mTORC1 was found to be the primary nutrient sensing enzyme behind the mechanism, with T cells being stimulated by its presence. This means when appropriate nutrients are sensed in the environment, the immune response is stronger. Better get taking those multivitamins!
From these experiments, a map was created to understand the network and mechanism behind the process. Protein-protein interactions were investigated, looking at which enzymes bind together to power the nutrient sensing mechanism.
So what is next?
This new and exciting information is just the start of fully understanding the network. “In this paper, we focused on only a few major pathways, but we have identified several hundred candidate proteins, so there are many more to be studied,” said author Hongbo Chi.
Learning how to manipulate the pathways to boost the immune response has wide reaching implications. “These maps will provide new targets for treatments to fight infections and enhance the immune response in cancer immunotherapies,” stated Chi. The work may also help in vaccine development, making them safer and more effective.
Source study: Nature – CRISPR screens unveil signal hubs for nutrient licensing of T cell immunity