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Herman N. Eisen

room 76-253
phone (617) 253-6406

Eisen Lab

phone (617) 253-6404
fax (617) 258-6172

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Herman N. Eisen

Herman N. Eisen

Herman N. Eisen
Professor Emeritus


"T lymphocytes of the immune system make up about 2-3% all cells in mammals. Most of these cells fall into 2 groups: CD4 ("helper") cells and CD8 cells (“cytotoxic”) T cells.  CD8 T cells develop into effector "killer" cells (CTL) and into long-lived memory T cells.  Currently, highly effective vaccines owe their potency to the antibody molecules and activated CD4 T cells that they elicit.  Vaccines have so far not been successfully developed for human populations that exploit CD8 responses.  However, for several major infectious diseases lacking effective vaccines—for example, AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis—CD 8 vaccines may have more to offer.  Our laboratory is working to understand and overcome the barriers to generating effective CD 8 vaccines."

Dr. Eisen is a Professor Emeritus at MIT and maintains an active laboratory. He received his M.D. in 1943 from New York University and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Research Summary

Long term cultures of CD8 T cell clones, we concentrated on their TCR, identified and characterized some of the naturally occurring peptides they recognize in association with self and non-self MHC proteins, analyzed the affinity, kinetics, and specificity of peptide binding to MHC proteins and of the resulting pep-MHC complexes to the TCR on live T cells, and evaluated how pep-MHC complex density on target cells and TCR affinity for these complexes influence target cell destruction by CTL.

Recently we have begun to the study of T cells in mice. In making this transition, we are collaborating with Professors Jianzhu Chen and Richard Young by focusing on the problem of "CD8 vaccines", i.e., on antigens and immunization strategies aimed at stimulating resting ("na•ve") CD8 T cells to develop into effector "killer" cells (CTL) and into long-lived memory T cells. Vaccines of this type have not so far been successfully developed for use in human populations—in contrast to the many highly effective vaccines currently used, all of which owe their potency to the antibody molecules and activated CD4 T cells they elicit. It may be, however, that for several major infectious diseases for which effective vaccines have not been developed—for example, AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis—CD8 vaccines have more to offer. To address this issue we are taking advantage of T cells in mice that express a transgenic TCR from a CTL clone known as 2C. This TCR has been extensively characterized with respect to the affinity and specificity of its interactions with diverse pep-MHC complexes.

A major obstacle to the development of CD8 vaccines arises from the special process by which antigens for CD8 T cells (pep-MHC complexes) are generated. The peptide components are normally generated intracellularly from cytosolic proteins by proteolytic degradation and they are then displayed in association with class I MHC proteins on the surface of antigen-presenting cells (APC). In conventional vaccines, however, the initially injected antigenic proteins are taken up from extracellular space into cell lysosomes, degraded proteolytically, and the resulting peptides displayed in association with class II MHC proteins for CD4 T cells; the extracellular antigenic proteins are, however, generally not translocated across cell membranes into the cell cytosol, the site of the class I antigen processing pathway: hence their failure to give rise to the pep-MHC complexes needed for CD8 T cell activation.

To overcome this barrier there is currently much interest in the use of strategies that introduce genes for antigens of interest into cells for cytosolic expression. Some examples of these "genetic vaccines" are DNA vectors engineered to contain sequences for protein antigens, injected as naked DNA molecules or incorporated into obligate avirulent intracellular microbes (pox viruses, adenovirus, listeria, etc.) In an alternative approach, we are exploring the use of heat shock fusion proteins. Injected into mice, these proteins have elicited the production of CD8 CTL that respond specifically to peptides from the fusion partner, suggesting that these fusion proteins might penetrate into the cytosolic class I MHC antigen-processing pathway of antigen-presenting cells (e.g. dendritic cells). We are examining this and the alternative possibility that the fusion protein enters dendritic cells by receptor mediated endocytosis and peptides generated in lysomes or late endosomes are loaded onto MHC-I proteins.

In parallel studies, we have in collaboration with Jianzhu Chen defined some of the prominent functional differences between naive and memory CD8 T cells, including differences in the cytokines and TCR ligands required for their growth, differentiation, and survival.

Selected Publications

Promiscuous binding of extracellular peptides to cell surface class I MHC protein. Eisen HN, Hou XH, Shen C, Wang K, Tanguturi VK, Smith C, Kozyrytska K, Nambiar L, McKinley CA, Chen J, Cohen RJ. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Mar 20;109(12):4580-5.

Evolving concepts of specificity in immune reactions. Eisen HN, Chakraborty AK. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Dec 28;107(52):22373-80.

RNA interference of influenza virus production by directly targeting mRNA for degradation and indirectly inhibiting all viral RNA transcription. Ge Q, McManus MT, Nguyen T, Shen CH, Sharp PA, Eisen HN, Chen J. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Mar 4;100(5):2718-23.

Naturally processed viral peptides recognized by cytotoxic T lymphocytes on cells chronically infected by human immunodeficiency virus type 1. Tsomides TJ, Aldovini A, Johnson RP, Walker BD, Young RA, Eisen HN. J Exp Med. 1994 Oct 1;180(4):1283-93.

A naturally occurring peptide recognized by alloreactive CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes in association with a class I MHC protein. Udaka K, Tsomides TJ, Eisen HN. Cell. 1992 Jun 12;69(6):989-98.

A novel serine esterase expressed by cytotoxic T lymphocytes. Pasternack MS, Eisen HN. Nature. 1985 Apr 25-May 1;314(6013):743-5.

Myeloma proteins as tumor-specific transplantation antigens. Lynch RG, Graff RJ, Sirisinha S, Simms ES, Eisen HN. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1972 Jun;69(6):1540-4.

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