New Insight Into Dendritic Cell Generation Offers Novel Therapeutic Avenues for Autoimmune Diseases, Lupus

Patricia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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A new study recently published in the journal Nature Immunology revealed important insights into the generation of key cells of the immune system – dendritic cells. The study is entitled “Identification of cDC1- and cDC2-committed DC progenitors reveals early lineage priming at the common DC progenitor stage in the bone marrow” and was performed by a team led by researchers at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore.

Dendritic cells are the antigen-presenting cells of the immune system, meaning that they are responsible for processing antigen material and present it to specific cells of the immune system, such as T and B cells, so that a specific immune response can be mounted.

“Dendritic cells are the intelligence-gathering cells that educate the immune system,” explained in a news release one of the researchers involved in the study, Dr. Shalin Naik from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia. “They tell the infection-fighting T cells and NK [natural killer] cells what a virus, bacterium, fungus or cancer looks like so they know what they’re looking for when fighting disease.” Dr. Naik has referred to dendritic cells as the ‘James Bond’ of the immune system.

“If we learn how to control dendritic cells, we could strengthen our immune response to infection when needed, or weaken the action of certain immune cells that attack the body’s own tissues in autoimmune disease.” added Dr. Naik. Having more insight about dendritic cells may offer new methods to manipulate the immune system by either boosting the immune response to threatening infections or vaccines, or by reducing the immune response in the case of autoimmune diseases like lupus.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), commonly referred to as lupus, is a known autoimmune disease characterized by an overreaction of the body’s own immune system (through autoantibodies) that leads to the attack of healthy tissues, such as joints and organs, resulting in inflammation, pain, disability and often in tissue destruction.

There are different subtypes of dendritic cells, each of which is primed to recognize certain types of infections. In the study, researchers analyzed dendritic cell lineages and discovered that each subtype has its own unique parent cell. “In this study, we used the latest technologies to examine individual immune cells and their ‘daughter’ cells, revealing there isn’t one single parent cell for all subtypes of dendritic cells, but instead a unique progenitor for each individual subtype.” explained one of the study’s co-senior authors Dr. Florent Ginhoux.

Strategies targeting these progenitor cells, could therefore offer therapies that are more efficient. “Suppressing a progenitor from creating the subtype of dendritic cells implicated in causing lupus, for example, could be an efficient way of treating autoimmune diseases while minimizing the impact on the rest of the immune system.” concluded Dr. Ginhoux. “This discovery will enable scientists to find ways of tweaking our immune response with much greater accuracy and precision than ever before.”