Scientists Filmed the First Video of T Cells Being “Educated”

Immunologists from the University of Texas at Austin first captured a video of T-cells being educated at an early stage and the results were published in the journal Nature Communications. The study showed a new imaging technology that allows video recording, which is expected to fight against autoimmune disorders disease, such as type 1 diabetes.


T cells are one of the most powerful weapons against many diseases in the human body, but they might be misled in people with autoimmune disorders and begin to attack healthy parts of the human body, resulting in serious damages.



Associate Professor Lauren Ehrlich, as one of the authors of the study, said: “the main task of T cells is to recognize and resist all the different pathogens we encounter in our lives and at the same time avoid attacking our own healthy tissues. These T cells mature in the thymus where they are ‘educated’ to avoid attacking healthy tissues and organs.”


Ehrlich and the postdoctoral researcher Jessica Lancaster filmed the video on how T-cells are “educated” in the mouse thymus. Through a pair of powerful lasers, activated in a short pulse and scanning a piece of living tissue every 15 seconds, cell positions, motions and intracellular signals were reconstructed. They noticed that other cells in the thymus will, as the growth and development of T cells, “educate” them to recognize normal cells at the early stage to avoid attacking the healthy parts of the body later in the future.


The use of this new imaging technology to study T cells is expected to improve human health, said Ehrlich. For example, the immune system of patients, receiving bone-marrow transplants for weeks or months, is easy to be inhibited, which leads to a high risk of autoimmune disorders. T cells of patients with type 1 diabetes often attack cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.




J. N. Lancaster, H. M. Thyagarajan, J. Srinivasan, Y. Li, Z. Hu, L. I. R. Ehrlich. Live-cell imaging reveals the relative contributions of antigen-presenting cell subsets to thymic central tolerance. Nature Communications, 2019; 10 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09727-4

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