Friday, September 26th, 2014 - Agency for Science, Technology and Research

SINGAPORE - (ACN Newswire) - Scientists from A*STAR's Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI) have established a clearer relationship between two cells which serve our body's natural defence mechanisms against diseases and infections. Their findings, published in the prestigious journal CELL REPORTS, will help the medical community better understand autoimmunity and could pave the way for treatment of autoimmune diseases.

Natural killer T (NKT) cells and B cells are two of many immune cell types that work in tandem to help the body fight against foreign infectious agents. NKT cells have very potent functions and are crucial to the immune system despite making up only a small percentage of white blood cells. While scientists have established that NKT cells can promote the production of antibodies by B cells to combat infection, little is known about the effect of B cells on NKT cells until now.

Patients with autoimmune disorders have been observed to have drastically reduced numbers of NKT cells. The study conducted by BTI scientists revealed that autoimmune B cells had altered lipid[1] compositions, causing NKT cells to be over-activated and resulting in their eventual death and depletion in numbers. The scientists further found that removal of a lipid-presenting molecule from B cells resulted in recovery in the numbers of NKT cells.

Dr Andy Tan, a research scientist at BTI who led the study, said, "Our findings provide an alternative theory to current understanding of how autoimmune B cells affect NKT cells. This will allow new therapeutic strategies to be devised, rectifying NKT cell deficiency in autoimmune patients and improving their health."

Autoimmune diseases, including lupus and some forms of arthritis and diabetes, develop when the immune system fails to distinguish between its own cells and foreign pathogens such as bacteria and viruses, resulting in attacks on the patient's own healthy tissue. Autoimmunity affects between three to 10 percent of the general population, depending on gender, disease type and geographical location. Future studies to identify particular lipids responsible for NKT cell over-activation might thus present therapeutic opportunities for those with autoimmune diseases and disorders.

Prof Lam Kong Peng, senior author for the study and Executive Director of BTI, added, "One of the central questions in the field of immunology is how the immune system is able to maintain a delicate balance in effectively fighting foreign pathogens and avoiding attack of the body itself. Our findings have brought us one step closer to unravelling the mechanisms that govern the balance between immunity and autoimmunity."

[1] Lipids are a group of naturally occurring molecules that include fats as well as fatty acids. Lipids form part of each cell membrane and allow cells to store energy and mediate cellular responses.

Notes to Editor:
The research findings described in this media release can be found in Cell Reports, under the title, "Aberrant presentation of self-lipids by autoimmune B cells deplete peripheral iNKT cells" by Andy Hee-Meng Tan 1,2, William Pooi-Kat Chong 3, Sze-Wai Ng 2, Nurhidayah Basri 3, Shengli Xu 1,4, and Kong-Peng Lam 1,4,5,6

1 Immunology Group, A*STAR Bioprocessing Technology Institute, Singapore
2 Microarray Group, A*STAR Bioprocessing Technology Institute, Singapore
3 Metabolomics Group, A*STAR Bioprocessing Technology Institute, Singapore
4 Department of Physiology, NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, Singapore
5 Department of Microbiology, NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, Singapore
6 Department of Pediatrics, NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, Singapore

About the A*STAR Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI)

Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI) is a member of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Established in 1990 as the Bioprocessing Technology Unit, it was renamed the Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI) in 2003. The research institute's mission is to develop manpower capabilities and establish cutting-edge technologies relevant to the bioprocessing community. Some of the key research areas include immunology, expression engineering, animal cell technology, stem cell research, microbial fermentation, downstream purification and analytics. For more information about BTI, please visit

About A*STAR

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore's lead public sector agency that fosters world-class scientific research and talent to drive economic growth and transform Singapore into a vibrant knowledge-based and innovation driven economy.

In line with its mission-oriented mandate, A*STAR spearheads research and development in fields that are essential to growing Singapore's manufacturing sector and catalysing new growth industries. A*STAR supports these economic clusters by providing intellectual, human and industrial capital to its partners in industry.

A*STAR oversees 18 biomedical sciences and physical sciences and engineering research entities, located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis, as well as their vicinity. These two R&D hubs house a bustling and diverse community of local and international research scientists and engineers from A*STAR's research entities as well as a growing number of corporate laboratories. For more information on A*STAR, please visit 


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