Scientist profiles S-Z
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
2075 Bayview Ave., Room M7 619
Administrative Assistant: Sue Santillo
- B.Sc., 1987, zoology, University of Maryland, U.S.
- PhD, 1991, genetics and immunology, George Washington University, U.S.
Appointments and Affiliations:
- Senior scientist, Biological Sciences, Odette Cancer Research Program, Sunnybrook Research Institute
- Chair and professor, department of immunology, University of Toronto
- Fellow, Trinity College, University of Toronto
- Member, collaborative graduate program in developmental biology
- Canada Research Chair in Developmental Immunology, Tier 1
- Lymphocyte differentiation
- T cell development
- Thymus biology
- Notch signaling
The process of differentiation within the immune system allows a small population of continuously self-renewing stem cells to generate a remarkably diverse range of mature progeny. Understanding how molecular signals in developing tissues induce commitment and differentiation of stem cells is a fundamental question of developmental biology. In the context of blood cells, this question also has therapeutic implications in the treatment of leukemia, which arises from dysregulated differentiation.
In the context of the immune system, the thymus provides a model system to study the mechanisms controlling tissue-specific differentiation events and lineage commitment pathways. Hematopoietic progenitor cells from the bone marrow migrate to the thymus where they receive the necessary signals that mediate their commitment and differentiation into T lymphocytes. The absolute requirement for the thymus in the generation of T cells from hematopoietic progenitors has been recognized for over 50 years. However, the precise molecular interactions responsible for this thymic requirement remained elusive.
We contributed to the identification of these molecular interactions by demonstrating that a bone marrow-derived stromal cell line (OP9) ectopically expressing Delta-like-1 (OP9-DL1), a Notch receptor ligand, gains the ability to induce the full differentiation of T cells from hematopoietic stem cells (HSC). Interestingly, expression of Delta-like-1 or Delta-like-4 by OP9 cells results in a complete switch in lymphocyte lineage commitment, as control OP9 cells allow for robust B cell differentiation, while OP9-DL cells support only T cell differentiation from HSCs.
We extended these findings by showing that totipotent embryonic stem cells (ESCs) can also be induced to differentiate into functional T cells in vitro by coculture on OP9-DL cells. Thus, our findings show that Delta-like/Notch interactions occurring within the thymus underpin its unique ability to induce the lineage commitment and differentiation of T cells. With this in mind, our focus is on identifying the molecular mechanisms that govern progenitor lymphocyte lineage commitment, T cell development, and Delta-like-4 expression by thymic stromal cells, and the development of a stromal cell-free system for the induction of T cell differentiation from defined sources of stem cells. We are also developing strategies to adapt our current model system for the induction of T cell differentiation from defined sources of human stem cells. One important potential application of our work will be the directed generation of human progenitors T cells to facilitate immune regeneration of T cells.
Related News and Stories:
- One gene, three mutations, two diseases: Study provides new understanding of biology behind immunodeficiency disorders (Aug. 2, 2016)
- Poster competition turns on the heat: Summer students showcase diverse research projects (Aug. 26, 2015)
- Uncommon hospitality: International student seizes learning opportunity (Aug. 14, 2013)
- Competition spurs high scores: Scientists secure funding with federal agency (July 25, 2013)
- Continuing education: School's out, but learning doesn't stop for summer students at SRI (May 29, 2013)
- Allies in Academia: SRI scientists helm departments at Canada's largest university (from SRI Magazine, 2012)
- Scientists score high with operating funds: CIHR invests in eight researchers in its latest competition (May 30, 2012)
- SRI scientist appointed department head: Faculty of medicine names new chair of immunology (Apr. 24, 2012)
- Canada Research Chairs renewed: Award honours outstanding researchers who are recognized as world leaders in their fields (Mar. 15, 2012)
- CV: Dr. Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker (Dec. 1, 2011)
- Cited! (from 2008 Sunnybrook Research Institute magazine)
- Scientists find way to coax human stem cells into becoming T cells
- CIHR taps SRI PIs
- Model regeneration (from 2004–2006 Sunnybrook Research Institute magazine)
- There's art in this science (from 2004–2006 Sunnybrook Research Institute magazine)
- Right turns (from 2004–2006 Sunnybrook Research Institute magazine)
- Competition for CIHR Funding Grows
- Taking it up a Notch
- Deconstructing T cell development (from 2002–2004 Sunnybrook Research Institute magazine)