C-myc, a proto-oncogene, the activation of which is associated with cancer formation, has been found to be essential for normal functioning of the immune system, according to a study published in the journal, Blood. More specifically, c-myc has been found to be important in the immune system's 'memory' of previous infections.
In order to rapidly and efficiently respond to new infections, the immune system evolved such that it stores a 'memory' of previous attack by pathogens. The specialized cells involved in this process are known as 'T memory cells'. The T memory cells are normally maintained at a low level that can be rapidly expanded if the pathogen is detected again. The maintenance of normal, low levels, or 'homeostasis', of T memory cells is dependent on a signalling factor, a so-called cytokine, known as 'IL- 15.
'Very little is known about the signalling pathways that actually control IL-15-dependent homeostasis,' explains LICR's Dr. H. Robson MacDonald, the senior author of the study. 'By analyzing genetically engineered mouse models with reduced c-myc, reduced IL-15 or absent IL-15, we discovered that it's actually c-myc, which is known primarily as an oncogene, that acts downstream of the IL-15 signaling pathway to regulate T memory cell homeostasis.'