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Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer CenterVanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center


Luc Van Kaer, Ph.D.

Elizabeth and John Shapiro Professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology

Contact Information:

Vanderbilt University Medical Center
811 Light Hall
Nashville, TN 37232-0295

Research Specialty

Antigen presentation and lymphocyte development

Research Description

We are interested in the basic mechanisms employed by the immune system to fight infection. Our work focuses on the function of a set of molecules encoded within a region of the genome referred to as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). The MHC products bind with pathogen-derived peptides and present these peptides to T lymphocytes. Two classes of MHC molecule can be distinguished, MHC class I and class II, which present antigens to CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes and CD4+ helper T lymphocytes, respectively.

Current projects in the laboratory include: 1) determine how antigenic peptides are generated and combined with MHC molecules; 2) understand the role of MHC molecules and their natural peptide ligands in the intrathymic selection of a complete repertoire of T lymphocytes; 3) study how the type of MHC molecule that presents a given antigen can influence the type of immune response that is generated against this antigen; and 4) investigate the importance of MHC products for the target cell specificity of natural killer cells, a poorly defined class of lymphocyte that is involved in the immune response against viruses and tumors.

Our general approach to study the immune system is to use mouse genetics. Genetic engineering techniques are now available that allow one to introduce or delete specific genes in a whole mice. Such mice provide unique models to study various aspects of a gene product. Using this technology, our laboratory has generated several new mouse strains which exhibit a variety of immune defects.