Lanier to Deliver 54th Annual Faculty Research Lecture in Basic Science

February 02, 2011
Lewis LanierLewis Lanier

Lewis L. Lanier, PhD, American Cancer Society Research Professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at UCSF, has been named the recipient of the 54th Faculty Research Lectureship in Basic Science.

Lanier’s contributions to our basic understanding of human and mouse natural killer (NK) cells are readily evident by reading any textbook on basic immunology – from his initial characterization of human NK cells and his identification of many of the NK receptors to his recent demonstration of direct viral recognition by NK cells and their role in host protection against pathogens and tumors.

The UCSF community is invited to attend the Academic Senate Faculty Research Lecture in Cole Hall at the Parnassus campus on Monday, Feb. 14, 2011, at 3:30 p.m. A reception will follow.

Lanier joined the UCSF faculty as a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and the Cancer Research Institute in 1999. He was promoted to vice chair of the department in 2003 and became chair in 2009. Lanier was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2010.

He received a BS degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and a PhD degree from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he also did postdoctoral work in immunology at the UNC Lineberger Cancer Center. He continued his postdoctoral work at University of New Mexico School of Medicine, supported by a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation fellowship.

Lanier also has worked in the private sector at Becton Dickinson Immunocytometry Systems and DNAX Research Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology Inc.

Role of Natural Killer Cells

In the early 1980s, using then state-of-the-art multiparameter flow cytometry and molecular biology techniques, he showed that a unique subset of lymphocytes in humans – defined by CD56 and CD16 and lacking T-cell receptor gene rearrangement – was responsible for NK activity, and that lymphokine-activated killer cell activity was mediated by IL-2-activated NK cells.

During the 1990s, Lanier proposed that NK cells are tightly regulated by a balance between opposing signals transmitted by inhibitory and activating receptors. His group identified, cloned or established the function of many of these NK cell surface receptors and their ligands. He showed that many of these NK receptors are also present on T cells and modulate their function.

Lanier’s studies of the NKG2D receptor have confirmed in vivo the role of this receptor in immunity against viruses and cancer. But he has also uncovered an unexpected role for this receptor in autoimmune disease and in bone marrow and heart transplantation, and his discoveries currently are being translated into human therapeutics.

His work on the DAP12 signaling molecule expressed by myeloid cells and NK cells led to the discovery that the DAP12-associated Ly49H receptor directly recognizes a viral glycoprotein encoded by cytomegalovirus – the first example of direct recognition of a foreign pathogen by NK cells. His group has most recently demonstrated the existence of long-lived, antigen-specific memory NK cells, indicating that immunological memory of pathogens is not restricted to the adaptive immune system.