Immune system: How T cells are stimulated to heal tissue

Immune system: How T cells are stimulated to heal tissue

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Tissue-healing immune process decoded

T lymphocytes, or T cells for short, belong to the white blood cells and form an essential part of the immune system. Among other things, they ensure that immune responses are controlled and that there is no unwanted immune response. Some of these cells can also specialize in tissue healing. A German research team has now deciphered how this happens.

Researchers at the University of Regensburg found out why some of the immune system's T cells are dedicated to healing damaged tissue. The team sees this discovery as an approach to treatments that support self-healing. The results were recently presented in the renowned specialist journal "Immunity".

Proteins influence the genetics of the cells

It has not yet been known why some T cells specialize in healing damaged tissue. The research team led by Professor Dr. Markus Feuerer, Dr. Michael Delacher and Dr. Christian Schmidl was able to describe for the first time how these healing cells are created. The key is which proteins interact with the T cells in order to influence the gene landscape of the cells so that they develop a healing effect.

How are cells changed by proteins?

According to the researchers, progenitor cells first develop in lymphoid organs such as the spleen or lymph nodes. These cells already have the potential in their genome (DNA) to develop in certain directions. The gene landscape is then changed via special proteins, so-called transcription factors, which dock onto the cells in such a way that they receive certain, anchored abilities.

Which protein leads to the healing properties?

As the research team found out through extensive computer analysis, in the case of T cells, the transcription factor BATF causes the immune cells to secrete tissue-healing proteins and anti-inflammatory cytokines.

This relationship was confirmed in further experiments. The team showed that without the BATF protein, the T cells are unable to develop their healing abilities. When BATF was activated, the progenitor cells matured to the healing-promoting T cells, migrated into tissues such as skin, fat and intestine and supported the reconstruction of damaged tissue there.

What use could knowledge have?

The researchers see the process as an approach for specific therapies for the regeneration of damaged tissue or organs. This could be useful for leukemia, for example. According to the study, the inhibition of BATF proteins could also have therapeutic benefits, for example to enable more immune activity against tumors. The areas of application must first be checked in upcoming studies. Further research is already being planned and is supported by the German Research Foundation and the European Union. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Delacher M, Imbusch CD, Hotz-Wagenblatt A, u.a .: Precursors for Nonlymphoid-Tissue Treg Cells Reside in Secondary Lymphoid Organs and Are Programmed by the Transcription Factor BATF; in: Immunity 2020,
  • University of Regensburg: What makes T cells heal tissue? (published January 28, 2020),

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