According to textbooks, cells of the adaptive immune system must be either B cells or T cells—they can’t be both, or anything in between. But proving once again that nature is full of surprises, scientists have now discovered a novel type of lymphocyte in type 1 diabetes patients that combines characteristics of B cells and T cells. The researchers suggest that these hybrids could play an important role in the disease by encouraging the immune system to attack the body’s own insulin-producing cells, they report today (May 30) in Cell.
“The presence of a cell that expresses both B-cell receptors and T-cell receptors in and of itself is very novel,” remarks Jane Buckner, an immunologist and president of the Benaroya Research Institute, a Seattle-based nonprofit that conducts research on diseases of the immune system. However, more research is needed to establish its role in type 1 diabetes, adds Buckner, who wasn’t involved in the study.