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Researching how antibodies are produced in the body

Antibodies are essential molecules that protect the body from disease. By artificially controlling the production of antibodies, that is, by obtaining the technique known as vaccination, humanity has overcome various infectious diseases. On the other hand, when antibody molecules are produced against a person’s own body, this causes autoimmune diseases, and when antibodies are produced against originally non-pathogenic substances such as pollen, they cause allergic diseases. In other words, a deep understanding of antibodies is critical to developing treatments for these infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and allergic diseases. Antibodies are molecules produced by B cells, but B cells need the assistance of helper T cells to produce antibodies. Among helper T cells, follicular helper T cells, called Tfh cells, play a central role. T cells and B cells are present in separate zones of lymphoid tissue, but when they are stimulated by an antigen, some T cells migrate to the B cell zone. Helper T cells that have the ability to migrate to this B cell zone are called Tfh cells. Tfh cells interact directly with B cells and cause the B cells to produce high-quality antibodies.

Identifying the work of Tfh cells necessary for B cells to produce antibodies

The central theme of our research is to clarify the regulatory mechanisms of these Tfh cells. To understand the regulatory mechanisms of Tfh cells, our laboratory is creating and analyzing various genetically modified mice. So far, we have created mice that can specifically induce genetic mutations in Tfh cells, mice that can eliminate Tfh cells from their bodies, and mice that can induce autoantibodies and allergic disease-causing IgE, and have been advancing our research. If we can clarify the regulatory mechanisms of Tfh cells, it will be possible to artificially enhance antibody production, which would likely lead to the development of new vaccines. Also, if Tfh cells can be artificially suppressed, this could be applied to therapeutic agents for autoimmune diseases caused by antibodies, including rheumatoid arthritis, Graves’ disease, and myasthenia gravis, as well as various allergic diseases such as atopic dermatitis and pollinosis.

Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Department of Medicinal and Life Science
Associate Professor Yohsuke HARADA

■ Main research content

Associate Professor Harada’s fields of specialization are molecular immunology and immunocytology. He is working to clarify the mechanism of T cell activation, the mechanism of immune memory formation, and the development of immune activation and suppression molecules.

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