Lymphocytes are cells of the immune system which circulate throughout the body coming into contact with all host cells. Lymphocytes are activated when they encounter microorganisms and co-ordinate a sophisticated defence network to destroy the invader. They are responsible for immunological “memory” which protects individuals from re-infection. Lymphocytes are a subset of white blood cells and can be divided into three main classes:
T cells, which develop in the thymus mediate cell-mediated immunity and help B cells generate antibodies;
B cells, which develop in the bone marrow and mediate humoral immunity by secreting antibodies.
Innate lymphocytes, which do not express T cell or B cell receptors for antigen, play essential roles early in an infection.
Each class of lymphocyte functionally interacts with the others to mount an immune response. The types and functions of lymphocytes changes substantially through the life-course.
The Lymphocyte Signalling and Development ISP is an interactive team, currently consisting of five research groups and approximately 30 research workers. We use a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the receptors and pathways that regulate lymphocyte development and activation. We use physiological models to understand the integrated function of the immune system. We are investigating factors which control lymphocyte homeostasis and we are particularly interested in how lymphocytes contribute to organismal homeostasis throughout the life-course. This requires understanding how lymphocytes interact with host cells including the microbiota at epithelial surfaces.
We are investigating signal transduction pathways and molecular pathways that regulate the survival and activation of lymphocytes. We are also trying to develop a more integrated view of signal transduction and the regulation gene expression during the development and activation. This requires an understanding of how transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation work together to regulate gene expression. Thus a considerable effort is being made to investigate how microRNAs and RNA binding proteins function in this context.
The Lymphocyte Signalling & Development ISP carries out research to identify the molecular and biochemical mechanisms required for the development and function of lymphocytes throughout the life-course. Decoding the molecular mechanisms regulating lymphocyte maturation and function is of interest to those wishing to improve vaccines, combat autoimmune disease, develop tumour immunotherapy or improve the efficiency of organ transplantation. With up to 90 autoimmune diseases (including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes), 100 inherited immune deficiencies and reduced immune function due to ageing, a greater understanding of immunity is central to the goal of promoting a healthier lifespan. Within the LLSD we seek to discover and characterise important pathways that control healthy immune function. These pathways are important pharmaceutical targets to either boost or curtail aspects of the immune response.