The adaptive immune system—in the form of T and B cells—has the remarkable ability to target threats according to their specific molecular markers, known as antigens. These cells can also “remember” what threats look like so responses can be launched quickly if the threats are ever encountered again. Interestingly, though, T and B cells existed prior to the evolution of adaptive immunity, though it is unknown what purposes they initially served. Therefore, Dr. Chavan seeks to dissect the evolutionary history of these immune cells in order to uncover the fundamental, ancient, and conserved aspects of their biology and to study how they came to be the pillars of the adaptive immune systems.
First, he plans to establish the evolutionary relationships between the different immune cell types from three vertebrate species. Then, using this framework, he will reconstruct the gene expression programs of the ancestral cell types from which B and T cells originated, and the evolutionary changes in gene regulation that likely enabled their origin. Lastly, he will identify and characterize the comparable cell types in an invertebrate species in order to shed light on the nature and function of ancestral immune cells. Ultimately, Chavan’s work may reveal important insights into how the immune system maintains tissue health to limit cancers and could suggest strategies through which this activity could be enhanced.
Projects and Grants
Dissecting the evolutionary origin of lymphocytes
Yale University | All Cancers | 2019 | Ruslan Medzhitov, Ph.D.
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