The primary function of the immune system is to protect the host from foreign invaders. In patients with autoimmune disease their immune system is instead mounting an attack on itself. This results in severe disease symptoms. Antibodies produced by B cells often cause these symptoms. However, B cells can only produce antibodies when supported by interleukin 21 (IL21). IL21 is a specialized molecule produced by a type of T cell known as T-follicular helper (TFH). Thus, understanding how TFH cells develop and produce IL21 is key to developing better therapies to treat autoimmune disease. To do this, my work has taken advantage of an IL21-reporter mouse model we developed. This enables us to easily identify the cells that are producing IL21 and factors that increase or decrease their development.
My work has identified a new source of IL21 present in mice, and has identified genes that are influential in their development. We hypothesize that these cells are the critical source of IL21 that helps to drive disease in autoimmunity.
Elisabeth Adkins is a Doctoral Candidate-Roopenian Lab, The Jackson Laboratory and Tufts University