En Cai, Ph.D., Robertson Foundation FellowUniversity of California, San Francisco

This research supported by CRI will explore how the immune system recognizes tumors and eventually unleash the power of immune cells to fight cancer
Area of Research: All Cancers

The immune system is capable of identifying and eliminating tumor cells by recognizing tumor-associated antigens. In order to eliminate tumors, T cells must first detect them; to do this T cells survey the surfaces of antigen presenting cells (APCs) which present an array of proteins that provide a snapshot of what is present in the body. As a result the APCs display mainly normal fragments but amongst these are mixed with rare tumor-associated antigen fragments which the T cell can recognize and mount a response. While the surface topology of the T cells clearly plays a role in how effectively they can find these rare fragments, how exactly T cells perform this efficient search is not well understood. Therefore, Dr. En Cai is employing real-time 3-dimensional analysis to characterize the process. Already her team has captured the early events prior to and during antigen recognition, and demonstrated that T cells utilize finger-like protrusions known as microvilli to scan the surfaces of APCs for antigens. Furthermore, they’ve found that these microvilli contacts are stabilized after antigen recognition. Now, Dr. Cai plans to further study how T cells control their membrane topology as well as how such arrangements are altered in tumor microenvironment.

Projects and Grants

Understanding the Fundamental Processes of T cell Immunity through High Precision 3D Dynamic Imaging of antigen recognition

University of California, San Francisco | All Cancers | 2017 | Matthew F. Krummel, Ph.D.

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