Public Release: 

Finnish research group discovers a new immune system regulator

University of Turku

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Credit: Photo: Hanna Oksanen, University of Turku

Academy Professor Riitta Lahesmaa's research group from Turku Centre for Biotechnology of the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University, Finland, has discovered a new regulator of the immune system, a key factor that controls development of regulatory T cells. The discovery provides basis for new strategies for the treatment of both cancer and immune-mediated diseases.

Regulatory T cells are critical controllers of the immune response. The majority of T cells boost the immune response enhancing the ability to destroy cancer cells, viruses and bacteria. In contrast, regulatory T cells can sometimes suppress the immune system's ability to attack cancer cells, allowing cancer to grow and spread. In these instances, inhibiting or braking the regulatory T cell activity would be needed.

-We discovered that a protein called 'Hypermethylated In Cancer 1', or HIC1, serves as the key regulator of regulatory T cells controlling the expression of a large set of genes contributing to T cell function, says Academy Professor Riitta Lahesmaa.

- In addition, with genome-wide methods we show that HIC1 binds to sites in the nucleus that often contain genetic variations associated with immune-mediated diseases. This gives us completely new insights into molecular mechanisms that regulate T cell function and immune response in general, continues Lahesmaa.

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The study was published in the Cell Reports journal on 20 February 2018.

Transcriptional Repressor HIC1 Contributes to Suppressive Function of Human Induced Regulatory T Cells, available online: http://www.cell.com/cell-reports/fulltext/S2211-1247%2818%2930119-0.

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