Penn study finds that different diseases elicit distinct sets of exhausted T cells
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IMAGE: Exhausted T cells have poor function in chronic infections and cancer but can be therapeutically re-invigorated. view more 

Credit: John Wherry, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania; Immunity

PHILADELPHIA – The battle between the human immune system and long-term, persisting infections and other chronic diseases such as cancer results in a prolonged stalemate. Over time battle-weary T cells become exhausted, giving germs or tumors an edge. Using data from multiple molecular databases, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have found nine distinct types of exhausted T cells (“Tex”), which could have implications for fighting chronic infections, autoimmunity, and cancer. They published their findings in Immunity this week.

“Exhausted T cells are a discrete cell lineage that have become important immunotherapy targets for chronic infection and cancer,” said senior author John Wherry, PhD, a professor of Microbiology and director of the Institute for Immunology. “Now, we know that exhausted T cells are a vastly diverse set of immune cells.”

Wherry’s lab has spent the last decade describing these populations of fatigued cells. Overall, when normal T cells become exhausted, they develop defects in their germ- and tumor-fighting capabilities. Tex also

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