PhD project

PhD project

Understanding and exploiting antigen discrimination by T cells

Supervisors: Omer Dushek & P. Anton van der Merwe


T cells use their T-cell receptors (TCRs) to discriminate between lower-affinity self and higher affinity non-self pMHC antigens. Although this process has been widely studied, the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. In particular, it is presently unclear whether co-signalling receptors, including those routinely used for cancer immunotherapy (e.g. PD-1), only impact antigen sensitivity or also impact antigen discrimination. The objective of this project will be to investigate the contribution of various co-signalling receptors to the process of antigen discrimination by T cells and to exploit this information to improve T cell therapies as appropriate. The work will rely on primary human T cells transduced or transfected with a defined TCR to which a panel of pMHC antigens have been identified that bind with a spectrum of affinities (as described in Pettmann et al (2021) eLife). By tampering with individual co-signalling receptors, their impact on antigen sensitivity and discrimination can be quantitatively assessed and rationally exploited for improved T cell based therapies.



Dushek lab

Understanding how the immune system discriminates between normal and abnormal tissues, and harnessing this knowledge to develop new therapies

van der Merwe lab

Investigating the mechanisms by which leukocytes use cell surface receptors to recognise infected or otherwise abnormal cells

About our PhD course

Doing a DPhil in Molecular Cell Biology in Health and Disease at the Dunn School is the best way to start your career.