Kazumasa Suzuki, M.D., Ph.D.

How do regulatory T cells become corrupted to drive autoimmune disease?

Funded: February 2024
Funded by: The generosity of LJI Board Director Barbara Donnell, and Bill Passey and Maria Silva, and various donors

About 5 percent of the population has at least one autoimmune disease, where pathological and excessive inflammation damages their healthy cells and tissues. Recent advances in antibody-based therapies have made it possible for doctors to suppress some of the inflammatory triggers that cause certain autoimmune diseases. However, these treatments have side effects and can leave a person more vulnerable to infections.

Regulatory T cells (Treg cells) suppress harmful inflammation and protect the body from autoimmune reactions. Treg cells express a protein called Foxp3, which is essential for proper cell function. Under certain circumstances, Treg cells can lose Foxp3 and transform into pathological cells called “ex-Treg cells.” Ex-Treg cells are thought to cause autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and autoimmune arthritis.

My goal is to gather basic data on how to prevent conversion of Treg cells to ex-Treg cells to improve autoimmune diseases.

SPARKing Impact: I aim to understand how regulatory T cells, which normally suppress autoimmune diseases, transform into pathological cells that promote autoimmunity. Understanding this mechanism may lead to new therapeutic strategies for autoimmune diseases.