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May 28, 2022
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It has been established that T cells need rest and maintenance

It has been established that T cells need rest and maintenance

T cells, biology textbooks teach us, are the soldiers of the immune system, constantly ready to respond to various threats, from viruses to tumors. However, without rest and care, T cells can die and make their hosts more susceptible to pathogens, scientists from Yale University report May 27 in the journal Science.

“We may have to change the way we teach T cell biology,” said Liping Chen, United Technologies Yale Professor of Cancer Research, professor of immunobiology, dermatology and medicine and senior author of the study.

Until pathogens are detected, T cells are dormant. However, the molecular mechanisms that maintain T cells in an inactive state were previously unknown.

In a new study, Yale University scientists have shown that a protein known as CD8a, found in a subset of T cells called CD8 cells, is critical for keeping cells dormant. When scientists removed this protein from mice, the protective CD8 cells failed to go dormant and died, leaving the host vulnerable to infections.

They further identified another protein, PILRa, that provides a biochemical signal for CD8a. When this pair of proteins was disrupted, both CD8 “memory” cells – cells that had previously been exposed to pathogens – and naive cells died because they lacked the ability to stay in a resting state.

The researchers hope that understanding why this dormant state is critical for T-cell maintenance and survival could lead to improved immune system function.

Chen noted that as people age, they lose both naïve T cells and memory T cells, making older people more susceptible to infections. It is possible that the inability of T cells to lie dormant may cause people to become more susceptible to infections and cancer, the authors suggest.

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