Institute of Immunology and Infection Research, University of Edinburgh
Our group focuses on the initiation and maintenance of effector and regulatory T cell responses during chronic parasitic infections
The key to immunity is communication; immune cells constantly talk to each other. In the absence of infection or disease this is to check that all is well. If a foreign body is detected these conversations decide whether an immune response is needed. During infection or disease these dialogues control which cells respond, and direct when, where, and how to react. Importantly, they also limit the response by telling cells when to stop so preventing immune damage. Conversations can be private, involving direct contact between cell surface molecules or the targeted release of cytokines (the immune equivalent of hormones). Other conversations are shouted through the systemic release of cytokines. If you communicate badly you can succumb to infection, damage yourself while responding to harmless challenges (e.g. hayfever is caused by responding to pollen), and even attack your own body (autoimmunity).
A fascinating aspect of parasites is that they have learnt the immune system’s language, surviving within the host by manipulating immune conversations. They can disrupt immune signals hindering immune activation, and can send conflicting signals that change the type of immune response or even turn it off. We are interested in how the immune system communicates during infection, and believe that by studying the way parasites influence immune responses we can learn how to control immunity. This will allow us to either promote protective immunity through vaccines, or turn off inappropriate immune responses such as those responsible for autoimmunity or allergies.