Scientists discover a novel modulator of human regulatory T cells


The research group of Professor Riitta Lahesmaa have discovered a novel modulator for human regulatory T cells. This novel regulator can strengthen or dampen immune response and provides a new basis for therapeutic approaches for immune mediated diseases. The Lahesmaa group is based at Turku Bioscience Centre of the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University and is part of the InFLAMES Research Flagship.

The T cells in our blood fight against cancer, viruses and bacteria. Specific regulatory T cells are required to control faulty immune responses, and disruption in their function may lead to autoimmune diseases or cancer.

The scientists at Turku Bioscience Centre have now discovered a novel RNA that controls the development and function of regulatory T cells. This long intergenic noncoding RNA (lincRNA) modulates the levels of transcription factor FOXP3 and the suppressive function of human regulatory T cells by controlling the interleukin-2 receptor. The finding potentially enables the development of new therapeutic approaches to control the human immune response.

“Our discovery provides a basis for developing precision medicine treatments for autoimmune diseases and cancer. Regulatory T cells are already being studied in patients to treat type 1 diabetes, and our novel lincRNA molecule could, for example, be used to boost the production of these cells for therapeutic use,” says Professor Riitta Lahesmaa.

The discovery is particularly interesting because cancer cells are able to hide from the immune system by specifically manipulating regulatory T cells. Recently introduced immune activator therapeutic monoclonal antibodies for cancer are attempting to break this hiding process. Lahesmaa suggests that by targeting the novel lincRNA molecule, it may be possible to release immune activation in cancer without using expensive antibodies.

Expression of lincRNAs is highly tissue and cell specific so targeting these molecules will enable precision therapy against desired targets.

The research has been funded by the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation, the Research Council of Finland and the Sigrid Jusélius Foundation. The research article was published in the esteemed PNAS journal.

InFLAMES Flagship is a joint initiative of University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University, Finland. The goal of the Flagship is to integrate the immunological and immunology-related research activities to develop and exploit new diagnostic and therapeutic tools for personalised medicine. InFLAMES is part of Research Council of Finland´s Flagship Programme. 

Photo caption: Professor Riitta Lahesmaa (on the left) with the shared first authors Dr Syed Bilal Andrabi and Docent Ubaid Ullah Kalim (on the right).

Created 30.05.2024 | Updated 30.05.2024