Research in the Immuno-Epigenetics Laboratory, led by Dr. William A. Faubion Jr., is focused on understanding and identifying the epigenetic landscape of immune cells. The group's perspective is that the immune system fails to regulate inflammation chronically manifested in the autoimmune inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), such as Crohn's disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC).

Despite some genetic variation associated with IBD, environmental factors also have been shown to increase the risk of developing IBD. Epigenetics is the study of the heritable changes to gene expression without changing the DNA code. Environmental signals may influence the dynamics of these epigenetic changes leading to an inheritable alteration of gene expression. Thus, the overall goal of the lab is to understand how environmental factors influence immune cellular development and function through chromatin remodeling.

Dr. Faubion's lab has previously found polycomb repressive complexes (PRCs) to be important in maintaining T-regulatory development and function. Loss of these complexes leads to severe colitis phenotype in mouse models and impaired regulatory function in in vitro experiments. His team also found forkhead box protein 3 (FOXP3) and enhancer of zeste homolog 2 (EZH2), a component of polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2), to be associated with deregulated pathways in CD4+ T cells isolated from lesions in people with Crohn's disease. This finding has propelled the current research projects into other epigenetic repressive complexes and cytokine-receptor signaling.

Research focus areas

Currently, the lab's goals include:

  • Dissection of the epigenetic mechanisms of development and function of Treg and T-helper 17 (TH17) cells.
  • Discovery of novel molecular mechanisms of IBD through integration of high-dimensional data sets.
  • Optimization of Treg cells ex vivo for adoptive cell therapy.
  • Development of novel therapies, particularly addressing TH17 cellular development.

Dr. Faubion's lab uses molecular and biochemical techniques, as well as high-throughput sequencing to provide an unbiased approach to discover molecular mechanisms driving IBD. This comprehensive approach will help lead us toward the development of new therapeutic targets.

In addition to these techniques, the lab is investigating clinically relevant epigenetic inhibitors, long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) and CRISPR-Cas9 technologies to characterize and modify regulatory T cells. The group aims to use this information to develop and offer more effective clinical therapies for people.

Key research findings include:

About Dr. Faubion

William A. Faubion Jr., M.D., is the research and innovation chair for Mayo Clinic's Department of Medicine, and a professor of immunology, medicine and pediatrics at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science in Rochester, Minnesota. Dr. Faubion also directs the Multidisciplinary Training in Digestive Diseases program and the Clinician-Investigator Training Program.