Tonsils make t-cells, too, Ohio State study shows

Public release date: 5-Mar-2012 [ | E-mail | Share ]

Contact: Darrell E. Ward Darrell.Ward@osumc.edu 614-293-3737 Ohio State University Medical Center

COLUMBUS, Ohio A new study provides evidence that a critical type of immune cell can develop in human tonsils. The cells, called T lymphocytes, or T cells, have been thought to develop only in the thymus, an organ of the immune system that sits on the heart.

The study, led by researchers at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC James), could improve the understanding of T-cell cancers and autoimmune diseases, and how stem-cell transplantation is done.

The study identified T cells at five distinct stages of development in the tonsil. These stages, identified using molecular signposts on the cells, were very similar to the stages of T-cell development in the thymus, although some differences were found as well.

The study also discovered that the cells develop in a particular region of the tonsil, in areas near the fibrous scaffold of the tonsil.

The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

"We've known for a long time that a functional thymus is necessary to develop a complete repertoire of T-cells, but whether a T-cell factory existed outside the thymus has been controversial," says principal investigator Dr. Michael A. Caligiuri, director of Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center and CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

"I believe our study answers that question. It is the first report to describe a comprehensive, stepwise model for T-cell development outside the thymus."

It also raises a number of questions. Caligiuri notes that it's still unclear whether T-cells that develop in the tonsil also mature there or whether they leave the tonsil to mature elsewhere.

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Tonsils make t-cells, too, Ohio State study shows

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