Effector and memory CD8 T cells play a critical role in the immune response to intracellular pathogens by targeting and killing infected host cells. CD8 T cell responses need to be tightly regulated in order to generate optimal protection while minimizing the risk of immunopathology or the development of autoimmunity. Research in the Richer lab is focused on understanding the role inflammatory cytokines play in the biology of both effector and memory CD8 T cells. In particular, we study how inflammatory cytokines influence the antigen sensitivity of CD8 T cells and how this process is regulated in health and disease. We have demonstrated that inflammatory cytokines regulate the antigenic sensitivity of both effector and memory CD8 T cells by either enhancing or dampening T-cell receptor signaling capacity. We are interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms governing this regulation and whether these mechanisms are affected over the course of chronic infection or in disease states such as cancer or autoimmunity.
In addition, we study how exposure to inflammatory cytokines influences other functional characteristics of effector and memory CD8 T cells. Gaining a deeper understanding of the regulation of CD8 T cell function by inflammatory cytokines is likely to have a significant impact on vaccine design as well as on the development of therapies aimed at preventing chronic infection or autoimmune diseases.
Finally, we have recently developed a research project on the immune response to Zika virus infection. We have started deciphering the immune correlates of host protection from Zika virus infection. In addition, we are attempting to determine whether viral evolution has allowed Zika virus to develop ways to counter the host immune response.