The IRB discovers the activation mechanism of the "police patrol" cells of our immune system

Nearly 200 billion na´ve T cells continuously patrol the human body in a dormant state, prepared to respond to potential threats. An international group of researchers, led by Dr. Roger Geiger of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB, affiliated to USI), demonstrated how these cells sustain a constant state of preparedness. By better understanding of the complexity of this process, this study helps improve our knowledge of different pathophysiologies (including cancer biology), in which T lymphocytes do not function properly. The study was published on July 6 in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature Immunology.

Na´ve T cells may remain inactive for several years in a spore-like state and therefore consume minimal nutrients and energy. However, if they encounter an antigen (a protein recognized by the immune system as foreign and thus potentially dangerous) derived from a pathogen or a malignant cell, lymphocytes quickly undergo a remarkable differentiation program to mount a robust immune response. Therefore, lymphocytes face a compromise between minimizing their metabolic activity while still maintaining the ability to rapidly execute their activation program.

The study also contributes to our quantitative understanding of lymphocyte biology. Indeed, to demonstrate this, Dr. Geiger and colleagues developed an algorithm to measure the "quantity" of mRNA (messenger RNA) that is produced and utilized during the activation of lymphocytes.

The article entitled, "Dynamics in protein translation sustaining T cell preparedness" is available on the website: www.nature.com/articles/s41590-020-0714-5

Further comments at www.nature.com/articles/s41590-020-0726-1