Understanding Innate Lymphoid Cells and Innate-like Lymphocytes in Health and Disease

The immune system protects the host against harmful stimuli such as infections. However, abberant inflammatory responses can lead to a variety of acute and chronic diseases. A dynamic balance between the pro- and anti-inflammatory components of the immune system normally ensures protection against harmful insults while minimizing collateral damage to the host. Emerging evidence has further revealed a crucial role of this balance in maintaining the function of non-immune organs under physiological conditions (see the figure below).

We are interested in subsets of innate lymphoid cells (ILC) and innate-like lymphocytes, which can regulate the functions of other cell types in the innate and adaptive branches of the immune system (see the cells inside the black-colored rectangle in the figure below). We study the role of these cell types in maintaining immune balance under physiological conditions, and how they contribute to pathology in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Our current research focuses on innate CD8alpha (iCD8alpha) cells that preferentially populate the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells that recognize lipid stimuli, and CD5-expressing regulatory B (CD5-positive Breg) cells that are enriched in visceral adipose tissues (VAT, see the cells inside the orange-colored circle in the figure below). We investigate the origin of these cells, the molecular pathways that dictate their lineage development and recruitment to inflammatory tissues, and their interactions with other immune and non-immune cells under homeostastic conditions and in inflammatory diseases.

Dr. Van Kaer's research evaluates iCD8alpha cells and iNKT cells in the GI tract and in the central nervous system (CNS), in the context of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and multiple sclerosis (MS), respectively. Dr. Wu's research examines CD5-positive Breg cells and iNKT cells in VAT, in the context of obesity-associated type 2 diabetes (T2D) and cardiovascular diseases (CVD).