Understanding the CD28-CTLA-4 pathway: a thermostat for T cell immunity

Year of award: 2023


  • Prof David Sansom

    University College London, United Kingdom

  • Prof Lucy Walker

    University College London, United Kingdom

  • Prof Michael Meyer-Hermann

    Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, Germany

  • Dr Sahamoddin Khailaie

    Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, Germany

Project summary

The CD28-CTLA-4 pathway controls T cell immune responses to both foreign and self-antigens, where loss of CD28 compromises adaptive immunity and loss of CTLA-4 causes fatal autoimmunity. The system is regulated by two distinct ligands CD80 and CD86, which bind with different affinity, avidity and valency characteristics to CD28 and CTLA-4. The binding of another ligand (PD-L1) to CD80, alters these characteristics and directly connects CD28, CTLA-4 and CD80 to the PD-1 pathway. Despite this critical position in controlling immunity, the fundamental mechanisms underpinning these pathways remain poorly understood. In this proposal we hypothesise that the integrated CD28-CTLA-4-PD-1 pathway represents a tunable "thermostat" that is regulated by a series of ligand-receptor interactions, competitions and feedbacks that control T cell outcomes.

We propose to:

a) Understand how biophysical characteristics of ligand-receptor interactions control pathway behaviour, by acting in concert.

b) Determine how natural and engineered changes in these biophysical characteristics alter T cell responses in vitro and in vivo.

c) Generate mathematical models to predict outcomes and look for emergent behaviours.

We therefore aim to provide a fully integrated view of how this essential immune regulatory system works, from molecular detail through to immune function.