Talking T Cells, New study reveals the immune cell landscape of the cornea

Researchers from the University of Melbourne including Prof Scott Mueller, Dept of Microbiology & Immunology, A/Prof Laura Downie and Dr Holly Chinnery have made a breakthrough regarding the immune cell landscape of the cornea.

Although scientists previously classified the immune cells as dendritic cells, a new imaging technique employed by the researchers has found that there exists a large number of T cells at the surface of the cornea.

Each researcher was conducting their own preclinical/clinical studies on the corneal immune cells, but when sharing findings with one another, they found an overlapping of morphological features of the corneal immune cells. Specifically, the similarities between the highly motile T cells found in Scott’s models with the motile immune cells being observed in the clinic. This prompted the use of mice to learn about the behaviours of immune cell subsets in the cornea and translate that across to the behaviours of immune cells in human corneas.

The most notable method used to redefine the previous understanding of the cornea’s immune cells is called functional-In Vivo Confocal Microscopy (Fun-IVCM). The method enables corneal immune cells to be tracked in living humans over the depth of tissue. The researchers were able to show that many immune cells resident in the healthy human cornea are T cells instead of dendritic cells, by separating subtypes of corneal immune cells. They also performed multi-parameter flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry on human donor tissue.

Many questions arose from this finding regarding the potential roles of these cells in maintaining healthy tissue and protecting against disease, with the speculation that the T cells perform similar roles to those in the body’s other tissues.

The new findings highlight the importance of collaboration and discovery, and will help further researchers understanding of eye health and how different treatments affect the eye’s immune system.

Read the full version on The Ophthalmologist.