Immune cell map arms researchers with new tool to fight deadly diseases

Published: 2019-12-19


A first-ever map of the human body’s immune cells has been created by scientists in Sweden, providing medical research with a detailed description of the proteins in human blood. The open-access database offers medical researchers an unprecedented resource in the search for treatments for diseases.

Published today in the journal Science, the Blood Atlas resource is the latest database to be released by the Human Protein Atlas program, which is based at the SciLifeLab.

KTH Professor Mathias Uhlén, director of the Human Protein Atlas, says that this open-access resource will facilitate future efforts to combat disease. “The immune cells are involved in fighting all human diseases – in particular cancer, infectious diseases and autoimmune diseases” Uhlén says. “With a comprehensive map identifying all proteins in these blood cells, researchers around the world will be able to deepen their understanding of human biology and develop new, more effective therapies targeting these diseases.”

The Blood Atlas resource provides a detailed view of the proteins in individual blood cells in relationship to the presence of these proteins in other parts of the body, determining which proteins are unique to different types of blood cells. A thorough analysis of blood cell RNA expression profiles has enabled the identification of approximately 1,500 genes with elevated expression in various immune cells, confirming well-known immune proteins, but also identifying new targets for in-depth analysis. Uhlén says the corresponding proteins are interesting to study further in order to explore the biological functions linked to the function of each blood cell type.

To illustrate the usefulness of this resource in understanding the function of specific genes across cells and tissues, the paper describes the cellular distribution of genes known to cause primary immunodeficiencies. Co-author Petter Brodin, a researcher in the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health at Karolinska Institutet and SciLifeLab says: “This resource is very important for anyone interested in understanding the function of individual genes, for example in patients with primary immune deficiency diseases.”

The results are presented in an updated version 19 of the Human Protein Atlas (www.proteinatlas.org/blood) providing an open-access knowledge resource to allow exploration of the expression profiles across human immune cell populations and all major tissues and organs. The Blood Atlas also contains information about the proteins actively secreted by various cells into human blood as reported recently by Uhlén and research colleagues in Science Signaling.

Read the full press release from KTH Royal Institute of Technology (in Swedish)