Theses Doctoral

Humanized Mouse Models for Xenotolerance and Autoimmunity

Nauman, Grace Ann

Mice with human immune systems, generated by transplanting human CD34+ cells into immunodeficient mice, are essential tools for studying phenomena unique to the human immune system or poorly reproduced in existing mouse models. Human immune tolerance induction, function and autoimmunity have been poorly modeled in conventional murine models, which often have poor predictive value for preclinical development. Models that allow the study of human immune cells with the reproducibility and flexibility of small animal models are required. In our lab, humanized mouse models have been used to study preclinical protocols for human xenotolerance induction and to better understand the immunological underpinnings of human autoimmunity. These are each areas of critical unmet medical need. Xenotolerance-inducing protocols may be necessary to allow long-term survival of a transplanted pig organ in a human patient, and, with more than 113,000 Americans currently waiting for a life-saving organ, the need to expand the pool available for transplantation is urgent. Additionally, clinical options for patients with autoimmune diseases are limited. Currently, most patients with autoimmunity are only diagnosed after significant immune damage of target organs. Predicting who will develop autoimmunity – and who will not – before damage occurs would be very useful but is currently very difficult. Small animal models that can better help us understand how human autoimmunity develops could help us develop protocols for early detection and even prevention. We have developed a personalized immune model to study the development of an individual patient’s immune system in a transplanted mice to better understand immune abnormalities that underlie autoimmunity.

We have used existing humanized mouse models to answer important questions related to human xenotolerance induction and autoimmunity, but in the studies described here we have worked to extend our capacity to use these models to study human T cell development and peripheral function. We would like to be able to study both the initial selection of T cell receptors (TCRs) in the thymus based on their ability to recognize antigen in the context of presenting MHC without reacting unduly to self-antigen, as well as in the periphery, where T cells interact with peripheral antigen-presenting cells (APCs) to maintain homeostasis and respond to antigen. First, we have incorporated TCR transgenesis into our humanized mouse models to allow greater precision in studying thymic selection in our humanized mice. Developing a system for this would allow us to study in greater detail mechanisms of human xenotolerance induction, including confirming that a swine thymus can support positive selection of T cells with human-restricted TCRs to allow a future xenotransplantation patient to maintain immune competence, while also robustly tolerizing human T cells expressing pig-reactive TCRs. We will also expand this system to study the thymic selection of human T cells with autoreactive TCRs to better understand mechanisms of central tolerance and understand how they fail in autoimmunity.

Finally, while processes of thymic selection are critical for human T cell development and function, peripheral interactions also have a large impact on human T cell function and homeostasis and may contribute to the development of autoimmunity. For these interactions to occur appropriately requires robust engraftment and reconstitution of APCs, especially of myeloid and B cell lineages, in transplanted immunodeficient mice. APC reconstitution tends to be suboptimal in humanized mice and is even more so in mice transplanted with patient-derived CD34+ cells. Better characterization of human APC populations and their progenitors could allow us to develop approaches to improve long-term human APC reconstitution in patient-derived humanized mice, allowing us to more fully model patient peripheral T cell function.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Microbiology, Immunology, and Infection
Thesis Advisors
Sykes, Megan
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 7, 2019