Dr. Ansel will identify processes that immune “helper” T cells use to initiate inflammatory responses in lung tissue of people with asthma, and determine how the information derived may lead to targeted therapies for asthma.
Asthma is an inflammatory disease that affects about one in every ten children in this country. Symptoms are caused by an allergic reaction in the lung initiated by immune cells, called “helper” T cells. When immune T cells (the body’s second line of defense) are called into action by the body’s innate immune system, the T cells multiply and acquire the ability to rapidly deploy small proteins, called “cytokines,” that fight infections by initiating inflammatory responses. In people with asthma, however, this inflammatory response against lung tissue is inappropriate: It is an allergic reaction against otherwise harmless substances.
Tiny molecules called “microRNAs” guide a process that inhibits the translation of DNA instructions into functional proteins. Dr. Ansel and his colleagues recently discovered that microRNA malfunctions in immune T cells can lead to inappropriate immune responses like those seen in human asthma. Immune T cells that cannot effectively make microRNAs fail to control the cytokines that they produce, and the cytokines initiate inappropriate inflammatory responses in the lungs.
Dr. Ansel plans to identify microRNAs that have specific functions in immune helper T cells, and determine which of these microRNAs are involved in asthma. Additionally, he will develop methods of inhibiting the function of these microRNAs in faulty helper T cells that initiate lung inflammation in asthma.