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Confocal microscopy images of nanotube formation between a CD8+ T cell and a mesenchymal stromal cell (MSC) stably transduced with a DsRed-tagged mitochondrial subunit protein (Mito-DsRed). Transferred mitochondria inside the nanotube are indicated by red arrows.

Boosting T-cell memory by mitochondrial transfer


Immunological memory describes the immune system’s ability to remember a pathogen, and respond rapidly and more vigorously to it upon subsequent encounters. This essential immune system function is delivered by B and T cells. Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) in the bone marrow and peripheral lymphoid organs are known to promote T-cell memory by organizing pro-survival niches—but the precise mechanisms by which they support T-cell longevity are still not clearly understood.

In this project, Professor Gattinoni’s team will explore the ground-breaking idea that MSCs may promote the development and long-term persistence of memory T cells by donating their mitochondria, and subsequently changing T-cell metabolism. We have recently found that MSCs can transfer their mitochondria to CD8+ T cells in a dish, improving their metabolic fitness and function. This project will determine whether the same mitochondrial transfer from MSC to CD8+ T cells happens during the body’s immune responses to pathogens, and what the consequences of such transfer might be. The work also aims to unravel the mechanisms that drive mitochondrial transfer and to exploit this knowledge to artificially increase mitochondrial transfer for future therapeutic application.

The project is supported by a 1.25m Euro grant from the German Research Foundation under the Reinhart Koselleck program.


Prof. Luca Gattinoni
Head of Research Division | Functional Immune Cell Modulation

Tel: +49 941 944–38131

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