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Molecular Immunology

Led by Professor Simon Barry 

How does a healthy immune system balance a swift response to fight off pathogens with maintaining tolerance to harmless challenges such as food and normal body tissues? A subset of immune cells known as regulatory T cells (Tregs) is believed to play a critical role in determining such outcomes. Tregs are essential for immune tolerance, and defects in this particular cell population are implicated in autoimmune disorders affecting many children such as type 1 diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as cancer and other diseases.

The Molecular Immunology Group seeks to characterise human Tregs under normal conditions, with a view to understand what goes wrong with these cells in immunological disorders. Using state of the art molecular biology, the group investigates all the genes involved in immune function in Tregs, and aims to understand how key genes are regulated in a coordinated way to control normal function.

The group is investigating the molecular mechanisms that switch genes on and off to control T cell function, and are focused on a master switch gene named FOXP3, which orchestrates the function of Treg cells. A key step has been identifying all of the regions of the genome that FOXP3 can bind to, and therefore potentially regulate. In order to understand how mutations alter immune tolerance we have developed a new technology that is able to map interactions at long distances that form as a result of DNA looping. This will identify the gene targets of point mutations associated with disease, by mapping them to the regions of the genome that they interact with.

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The Robinson Research Institute