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.


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:

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