Congratulations to Dr. Serena Longhi, Awarded Anesthesia Seed Grant

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A one-year Seed Grant award will support Assistant Professor, Dr. Serena Longhi’s research project that will investigate the role of aryl-hydrocarbon-receptor signaling (AhR) in autoimmune hepatitis (AIH).

Liver damage in AIH is caused and perpetuated by defects in regulatory T cells (Tregs), a cell subset normally controlling the reactivity of the immune system, as well as by the inability to control T-helper-type-17 (Th17) cells. Dr. Longhi and her lab will study how the immunological balance between Tregs and effector Th17 cells is altered in AIH. Previous studies have shown that both Tregs and Th17 cells obtained from AIH patients express low levels of CD39 enzyme. The expression of CD39 is induced by the AhR, a molecule normally activated by food components and environmental pollutants that also regulate Tregs and Th17 cells. Dr. Longhi has previously shown that the function of AhR is altered in lymphocytes from patients with AIH. This alteration is likely to result in low levels of CD39 in Tregs and Th17 cells and, consequently, in protracted liver damage.

Dr. Longhi and members of her lab at work at BIDMC.Studies carried out during the Seed Grant award period will provide novel insights into the development and persistence of autoimmune damage in AIH. They will also identify new and more effective therapeutic targets to control inflammation and halt disease progression in this and other autoimmune chronic illnesses.