Dendritic cells

Caetano Reis e Sousa : Immunobiology Laboratory

Our lab is learning about how the immune system works to contribute ideas for better vaccines and cancer therapies.

Dendritic cells play a crucial role in the human immune system. They detect infectious bacteria, fungi and viruses and alert more powerful immune cells so that they can recognise and destroy the invaders. Dendritic cells can also detect tumour cells and initiate immune responses that help fight cancer.

Our lab studies the molecular pathways that trigger dendritic cells into action. We look closely at proteins we call receptors on the dendritic cell surface that detect bacteria and fungi. When tickled, these receptors deliver a signal that signifies attack and activates the dendritic cells.

Some receptors are actually inside the dendritic cell but can still detect infecting viruses. Other dendritic cell receptors bind directly to bacteria or fungi or to cells in the body that are dying as a result of infection or cancer growth. We know that many of the receptors involved in dendritic cell activation are shared with other cell types so sometimes study them instead.

The more we understand about receptors on dendritic cells and other sentinel cells, the greater the potential to harness their activity, and so the body’s own immune response. This has huge potential for cancer therapy and for developing new vaccines.