Regulatory T cells - Immune cell population responsible for regulating the body's immune response has been identified.
The finding by the scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute could have wide-ranging repercussions for the treatment of autoimmune diseases, organ transplantation and cancer, and change how the efficacy of newly developed drugs is measured.
Dr Erika Cretney, Dr Axel Kallies and Dr Stephen Nutt from the institute's Molecular Immunology division made the discovery. It centered on a population of immune cells called regulatory T cells.
Regulatory T cells (T-regs) are responsible for limiting the immune response. Disorders that decrease T-reg activity can lead to autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes or coeliac disease, while increased T-reg activity can suppress the immune system when it should be actively killing cancerous or infected cells.
Kallies said the research team had used molecular signatures to identify which cells within the regulatory T cell population were responsible for suppressing immune responses.
"It turns out that the bulk of cells which are classified as regulatory T cells may not do much," Kallies said.
"In this study we have identified a distinct group of effector regulatory T cells, or 'active T-regs', which are the key drivers of immune response regulation," Kallis added.