Characteristics of Immune Cells Mapped in Multiple Tissues

The research, from the University of Cambridge, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and collaborators, has created an open-access atlas of the human body’s immune cells and focuses on those found in tissues, which are understudied, compared to those circulating in the blood. .

This study is part of the international Human Cell Atlas (HCA) consortium, which aims to map every type of cell in the human body as a basis both for understanding human health and for diagnosing, monitoring and treating disease.

Published in Science, the research explores the similarities and differences of the same types of immune cells in 16 different tissues. Knowing more about the characteristics and reactions of immune cells in these tissues could help future research into therapies aimed at producing or enhancing an immune response to fight disease, such as vaccinations or cancer treatments.

It is one of a trio of landmark collaborative papers published together in Science this week that have created comprehensive, freely available inter-tissue cellular atlases. The complementary studies shed light on health and disease and will contribute to the creation of a unique atlas of human cells.

The human immune system is made up of many different cell types that can be found throughout the body, all playing crucial roles. Not only do they fight off pathogens when they appear, but they remember them so they can be eliminated in the future.

In this new research, scientists simultaneously analyzed immune cells from 16 tissues from 12 individual organ donors. The team developed a database that automatically classifies different cell types, called CellTypist, to manage the large volume and variation of immune cells. Using this, they were able to identify about 100 distinct cell types.

Using CellTypist and further analysis, the researchers created an intertissue immune cell atlas that revealed the relationship between immune cells in one tissue and their counterparts in others. They found similarities in some families of immune cells, such as macrophages, as well as differences in others. For example, some memory T cells show unique characteristics depending on the tissue in which they are found.

The team also uncovered new insights into immune system memory by sequencing the antigen receptors present on T and B cells. This part of the study showed the different states that T and B cells undergo when they are exposed to an antigen, such as those found on bacteria and viruses.

The wider research community can use this atlas of intertissue immune cells to help interpret and inform future research. It could also serve as a framework for identifying immune cells that may be useful to activate when designing new therapies focused on guiding or supporting the immune system, such as vaccination and immunotherapies, both for infectious diseases and solid tumors.

Wellcome Sanger Institute co-first author Dr Cecilia Domínguez Conde said: “We have created a new catalog of immune cells in the human body, allowing us to automatically identify cell types in multiple tissues. Using single-cell sequencing data, we were able to reveal about 100 different types of immune cells, including macrophages, B cells and T cells, revealing crucial information about how the immune system works. We would like to thank the donors and their families for making this research possible.

Dr Joanne Jones, co-lead author from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Clinical Neurosciences, said: “In this research, we not only identified distinct types of immune cells, we also discovered that certain cell types immune systems follow specific tissue distribution patterns. . Understanding the different behaviors of the same type of immune cell in multiple areas of the body can help inform research into disease and how treatments that target these cells may impact other tissues.

Dr Sarah Teichmann of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physics, co-founder of the Human Cell Atlas, said: “Our multi-tissue immune cell atlas is a step towards understanding the functioning of the immune system throughout life. whole body and is an important contribution to the Atlas of Human Cells. In addition to creating a new resource for researchers to classify different cell types, our work will have many translational implications, including serving as a framework for developing therapies to fight immune-related diseases and manage infections.


Dominguez Conde. C, Xu. C, Jarvis. LB, rainbow. DB, Wells. SB, et al. (2022) Analysis of intertissue immune cells reveals tissue-specific features in humans. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.abl5197

Adapted from a Wellcome Sanger Institute press release

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