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June 30, 2023

What Do T Cells Like to Eat? The Answer Could Stop Multiple Sclerosis

Cells, like people, get their energy from sugars, proteins and fats. Many cells have highly specialized diets — think of some loving kale while others prefer Texas BBQ. The exact diet that a cell eats is unique like a fingerprint, specific to the function of the cell. 

BRI’s Yevgeniy Yuzefpolskiy, PhD, and Estelle Bettelli, PhD, think these fingerprints could be the key to stopping the cells that cause multiple sclerosis (MS). 

Featured Bio Yevgeniy Yuzefpolskiy

“If we can learn exactly what these cells eat, we might be able to cut off their food source and starve them out,” Dr. Yuzefpolskiy says. 

This could open the door to an entirely new approach to treating MS. Dr. Yuzefpolskiy, a postdoc in the Bettelli Lab, recently earned a prestigious fellowship from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) to conduct this research. 

“Available treatments for MS help ease the symptoms and improve quality of life, but BRI and NMSS want to go beyond that,” he says. “We want to find treatments that target MS at the source and move closer to finding cures.” 

Where Do T Cells Get Their Energy?

MS happens when T cells, which are supposed to fight off infections, get confused and start attacking the nervous system. Dr. Yuzefpolskiy first became fascinated with T cells as an undergraduate. 

“It blew my mind that T cells divide up to four times per day. The speed of that process would drain all the energy from most cells,” he says. “I started wondering ‘how much do T cells have to eat to keep up, and I’ve been curious about T cell metabolism ever since.”

In this study, he’ll zero in on the metabolisms of T cells and B cells in a model of MS. 

“One of the interesting things about MS is that a B cell targeting therapy can be very effective, but T cells actually drive the disease,” Dr. Yuzefpolskiy says. “There has to be some interaction between these types of cells, and we want to uncover it.”

His team is using a lab model of MS to look for a distinct “metabolic fingerprint” that illustrates exactly what each cell type eats. Next, they’ll add the therapy that targets B cells to the mix and see how both B and T cells’ metabolisms change. 

If all goes well in the model study, they’ll look for the same fingerprint in blood samples from people with MS. 

“We hope to find that specific fingerprint, which could enable us to block out just the food source of the MS-causing cells and leave all of the other cells alone,” Dr. Yuzefpolskiy says. “This is still in the very early stages, but it could lead to a new and more targeted way to treat MS.”

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