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Study Shows T Cells May Potentially Help Asthma Patients

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Photo: NIAID

House dust mites (HDM) are very common these days. While cleaning can only lower them for some time, it can’t be eliminated. However, specific immune cells may help avoid common allergens including dust mites.

Yet, many individuals react with common allergies, like an irritated nose, sneezing, itchy, and swelled nasal tunnels. Moreover, some people show a severe reaction such as a severe asthma attack which can be life-threatening.

To develop a permanent treatment, it is crucial to understand how allergic individuals are different from healthy people.

Asthma Patients Develop T Cells

In a study published in Science Immunology and performed by researchers at La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI), experts uncovered some details. The study found the reason due to which non-allergic individuals don’t react to dust mites.

The team discovered an unknown subset, called T cells. These are responsible for asthma and other allergic reactions due to HDM and other potential allergens.

Grégory Seumois, Ph.D., professor at LJI, director of its Sequencing Core, researcher of the latest study, explained the results. The research showed the discovery of subsets of immune cells giving rise to unique therapeutic opportunities.

Moreover, he explained that this new group of cells may potentially be one of the several mechanisms to demonstrate why healthy individuals do not experience inflammation as they inhale allergens.

Pandurangan Vijayanand, M.D. Ph.D., Professor at LJI, and senior contributor to the latest study explained that the research focused on the potential of the unbiased approach of single-cell genomics uncovering novel science.

The team used an Immune Epitope Database, a resource led by JLI that saves information about the immune system’s reaction to allergies like HDM.

The study took only dust mites into account because they are difficult to avoid for anyone. These are present almost everywhere, allowing no one to avoid them.

For, individuals with no allergies to HDM, their immune system reacts as such that it recognizes HDM molecules. Due to this quality, it is easy to study the causes of allergies and asthma.

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Methodology and Analysis

The team used the technique “genomic revolution” arsenal of tools. It is described as single-cell RNA-seq/transcriptomics. They used it to determine the gene and molecule T cells production as a reaction to HDM.

Researchers tested four distinct groups of individuals-

  • Individuals with HDM and asthma
  • Individuals with HDM only
  • Asthma patients
  • Healthy individuals

It was found that ‘a subset of helper T cells’, known as interleukin (IL)-9 Th2 expressing HDM-reactive cells, is present in a smaller amount in the plasma of the patients who have HDM allergy only as compared to HDM-allergic asthma patients.

It was further found that specific T cells are capable of killing different cells and can drive inflammation.

A different subset of the T cells, expresses an “interferon response signature”. These are enhanced for the gene that is used to produce a protein known as TRAIL. The study found that TRAIL is very important as it dampens activation of helper T cells.

Moreover, individuals with these specific cells in a large number can resist the inflammation due to T cells. This could be the reason why a few individuals have allergic responses and asthma, with exceptions.

According to Seumois, if practical studies prove the dampening effect, experts will have to look into methods for the production and boosting of T cells.

Seumois explains the need of execution of further research in the field. He thinks that the method used in the study, transcriptomic method, can help further studies on allergies and asthma. He explains that with the development of this crucial foundation of research, scientists can now apply it to several diseases.