The traditional functions of skeletal muscles include their capacity to provide mechanical force, stabilize joints, and regulate glucose and protein metabolism. Cancer and chronic viral infections are often associated with the loss of muscle mass and functional impairment or “exhaustion” of anti-tumor and anti-viral T cells. Cui’s research characterizes the immunological functions of skeletal muscles and determine how they regulate T cell exhaustion.
To achieve this goal, his team is using mouse models to identify and characterize the mechanisms that link the loss of skeletal muscle mass to T cell exhaustion in both viral infection and cancer. Recently, they found that skeletal muscle tissues can protect against T cell exhaustion and that they support a subset of T cells known as skeletal muscle-infiltrating lymphocytes (SMILEs), which provide a source of “killer” T cells capable of attacking tumors. Moving forward, Cui is focused on understanding how skeletal muscles regulate the survival, metabolism, and migration of these SMILE T cells as well as exploring the possibility that increasing skeletal muscle mass will enhance anti-tumor immune responses.
Projects and Grants
Mechanisms of CD8+ T cell exhaustion
German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) | All Cancers | 2021
The influence of nutrient availability in the tumor microenvironment on CD8+ T cell survival and function
Yale University | Melanoma | 2015 | Susan M. Kaech, Ph.D.
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