Jack Strominger’s lab specializes in the structure and function of human histocompatibility proteins and their roles in disease.
Research in the lab centers on three projects. They study the role of MHC proteins and of products of other disease susceptibility genes in human autoimmunity, including multiple sclerosis, diabetes, pemphigus vulgaris, and ankylosing spondylitis. They investigate activating and inhibitory immunological synapses in human natural killer cells: how they are formed and how they function, particularly in relation to lipid rafts. They also explore uterine decidual lymphocytes and their roles in the immunobiology of pregnancy.
The focus of the work in the lab is now understanding tolerance and immunity at the maternal-fetal interface.
Jack Strominger, M.D.
- Higgins Research Professor of Biochemistry
Immunology pioneer Jack Strominger investigates self-tolerance and the immunology of pregnancy. His lab specializes in the structure and function of human histocompatibility proteins and their roles in disease.
Strominger entered Harvard in 1942, joined Harvard’s Navy V-12 program, and majored in psychology. He attended Yale Medical School, where he became interested in life-science research. Over his long scientific career, he has published over 960 scientific papers.
Strominger discovered how penicillin kills bacteria, and how the immune cells distinguish between “own” and “foreign” cells. In 1987, with colleague Don Wiley, he isolated, crystallized, and determined the 3D structures of two classes of MHC proteins. The resulting crystallography images showed that the proteins have a pronounced cleft packed with antigens, which exhibits antigens to killer T cells. This discovery clarified how the adaptive immune response is initiated. MHC proteins attack pathogens, implanted tissue, and the body’s own tissues in the case of autoimmune disease.
Professor Strominger has more than 30 awards to his name, including the Lasker Award and Japan Prize (both shared with Don Wiley). Former members of his laboratory include twelve Harvard professors, twelve National Academy of Science members, and two Nobel laureates.
The study of histocompatibility led to the understanding of the mechanisms of immune recognition and to the discovery of novel molecules and cells involved in these processes, including Class I and Class II proteins encoded in the major histocompatibility complex of all vertebrates examined and T cell receptors.
The normal human response to bacterial and viral infection involves these molecules and results in either the generation of T helper cells and antibodies or of cytotoxic T-lymphocytes. In addition, many important human autoimmune diseases are linked to particular alleles of MHC Class I and Class II proteins. Recently, the importance of still another immune recognition system mediated by Natural Killer (NK) cells has become apparent.
Immunobiology of pregnancy: the roles of uterine decidual lymphocutesUterine decidual lymphocytes and their roles in the immunobiology of pregnancy. This project involves characterizing uterine lymphocyte populations and the many unusual proteins they produce in implantation and the maintenance of pregnancy.