The laboratory of Virginia M. Shapiro, Ph.D., focuses on the molecular machinery that regulates the development of T cells, a type of blood cell that specializes in fighting pathogens. Defects in this development process can leave patients more susceptible to infections or burdened by T cells that attack healthy tissue, resulting in autoimmune disease.
In addition, the laboratory studies the earliest steps in hematopoiesis, the process by which all cells of the blood are generated. Both processes are guided by molecules that turn genes on and off as needed so that cells can acquire a range of specialized characteristics. Dr. Shapiro's lab is investigating several of these regulatory molecules by generating mutant mice and analyzing these mice with a variety of methods including sophisticated multicolor flow cytometry.
- Regulation of T cell development. In the first step in their development, T cells gain basic specialized characteristics. Dr. Shapiro's lab is studying the role of several molecules that bind to and modify specific genomic sequences during this step.
- Regulation of T cell maturation. In the final step in their development, T cells progress from an inert state to one in which they can respond to pathogens. Dr. Shapiro's lab is investigating the regulation of this step by several molecules that control gene expression, as well as by a pathway that alters proteins on the cell surface.
- Regulation of iNKT cell development. Invariant natural killer (iNKT) cells, a specialized cell type that recognizes specific targets, differentiate from the larger pool of T cells in early development. Dr. Shapiro's lab is investigating the role of several regulatory molecules in this process.
- Regulation of hematopoiesis and erythropoiesis. Dr. Shapiro's lab is investigating the function of several molecules that regulate the survival and proliferation of hematopoietic stem cells as well as the differentiation of these cells into red blood cells.
Significance to patient care
The progression of T cells through a series of developmental stages ensures the production of a large repertoire of T cells able to respond to pathogens, while eliminating those with the potential to attack healthy tissues. Failures in T cell development lead to self-reactive T cells that cause diseases, including arthritis, diabetes and asthma. Early hematopoiesis produces all the cells in the blood, and defects in hematopoiesis result in anemias and cytopenias. Dr. Shapiro's lab is investigating several of the key genetic regulators of these processes, which will help uncover novel molecular targets for treating diseases involving immune and hematopoietic failures.
- Executive council, Autumn Immunology Conference (workshop chair 2015, secretary 2016 and chair 2017)
- Associate editor, Journal of Immunology, 2013-2016
- Regular member, Transplantation, Tolerance and Tumor Immunology Study Section, National Institutes of Health, 2010-2016
- Platform leader, Infection, Immunity, Inflammation and Fibrosis, Center for Biomedical Discovery, Mayo Clinic, 2015-present
- Chair, American Association of Immunologists Committee on the Status of Women (CSOW), 2014-present