David Lewinsohn Lab

The Lewinsohn laboratory studies cellular immunity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), a leading cause of infectious disease mortality worldwide. We believe that improved vaccines and diagnostics will require an understanding of the mechanisms by which T cells recognize cells infected with this bacterium. Because Mtb is a facultative intracellular pathogen, cytotoxic T cells may be important in the recognition and elimination of infected cells.

Research questions we are investigating

What are the immunodominant antigens recognized by humans infected with Mtb?

Using a combination of genomic and proteomic approaches, we have begun to elucidate the antigen repertoire. Interestingly, HLA-B appears to play a dominant role in the presentation of Mtb-derived peptides.  In addition to defining these antigens, we are exploring the diagnostic potential of these antigens and tetramers in the diagnosis of TB.

What are the molecular requirements for the activation of Mtb-reactive T cells?

We have found that Mtb-reactive T cells are both classically (HLA-A,B,C) and non-classically restricted. We have found that the molecules HLA-E and MR1 are capable of displaying Mtb-derived antigens. MR1-restricted T (MR1T) cells are defined by their recognition of metabolite antigens presented by MR1. Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells are the predominant subset of MR1T cells expressing an invariant TCR alpha chain, TRAV1-2. While these cells were initially described as recognizing riboflavin metabolites, it has become increasingly clear that there are diverse microbial antigens, and that MR1Ts can distinguish these antigens.  We are actively defining those antigens derived from Mtb, and exploring how infections might drive the expansion and maintenance of the cells.  In this regard, we have focused on the lung as the site where these cells are expanded, particularly in the context of human TB.

How do antigens derived from Mtb gain access to the MHC-I antigen processing pathway?

We are exploring the hypothesis that the Mtb-phagosome can process and present antigens, in effect allowing the immune system to focus on pathogens found within this organelle.

 What is the role of the lung epithelium in controlling the growth of Mtb?

We have found that both classically and  non-classically restricted cells recognize Mtb infected lung epithelial cells. We are exploring the mechanisms of antigen processing and presentation, and the ability of these cells to control Mtb growth.

What is the function and phenotype of lung-resident Mtb-reactive CD8+ T cells?

We have found that lung resident cells, particularly MR1Ts, have both an anatomic distribution and effector phenotype that would suggest they could serve to directly control infection with MTb.  We are exploring the ability of these T cells to inhibit mycobacterial growth.

Our Collaborators


Colorado State - Karen Dobos, PhD & Carolina Mehaffy, PhD

Oklahoma Health Sciences University - William Hildebrand, PhD & Curtis McMurtrey, PhD

University of Chicago - Erin Adams, PhD

La Jolla Institute of Allergy and Immunology - Mitch Kronenberg, PhD

Trudeau Institute - William Reiley

University of Washington - Kevin Urdahl

South Africa

African Health Research Institute AHRI - Emily Wong, MD & Thumbi Ndung'u, PhD

Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine,UCT - Digby Warner, PhD, Graeme Meintjes MD,  & Valerie Mizrahi, PhD

South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative, UCT - Tom Scriba, PhD & Mark Hatherill, MD

Stellenbosch University - Gerhard Walzl, MD,   Nelita Du Plessis-Burger, PhD & Leanie Kleynhans-Cornelissen


University of Sydney - Prof Warwick Britton & Prof Angelo Izzo

Monash University - Prof Jamie Rossjohn & Dr. Wael Awad

figure showing tSNE clustering of flow cytometry data
Swarbrick GM et al. Postnatal Expansion, Maturation, and Functionality of MR1T Cells in Humans. Front Immunol. 2020 Sep 16;11:556695
image showing microscope images
Kulicke C, et al. Delivery of loaded MR1 Monomer Results in Efficient Ligand Exchange to Host MR1 and Subsequent MR1T cell activation. BioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.07.11.499573
image of volcano plot
Meermeier, E.W., Zheng, C.L., Tran, J.G. et al. Human lung-resident mucosal-associated invariant T cells are abundant, express antimicrobial proteins, and are cytokine responsive. Commun Biol 5, 942 (2022).