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NIH Record

Von Boehmer To Give Dyer Lecture

By Elia Ben-Ari

Dr. Harald von Boehmer will give a talk on "Lymphocyte Survival" at the NIH Director's R.E. Dyer Lecture on Thursday, Apr. 10, at 3 p.m. in Masur Auditorium, Bldg. 10. Von Boehmer is professor of immunology at the Faculté de Médecine Necker and director of Unité INSERM (National Institute of Science and Medical Research) 373 in Paris.

Some of von Boehmer's most important scientific contributions address one of the central issues in immunology, namely how the immune system distinguishes between "self" -- that is, the body's own molecules, cells or tissues -- and "nonself" -- foreign substances such as viruses or bacteria. Two types of white blood cells, T lymphocytes and B lymphocytes, serve on the front lines of the immune system, enabling it to recognize and help destroy foreign invaders.

T lymphocytes (T cells), which are produced in the thymus, have cell-surface receptors that enable them to recognize and respond to a wide range of substances. Some T cells have the potential to attack self molecules, and, if left unchecked, can permanently damage the body's own tissues. This damage is seen in various autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis.

A principal thrust of von Boehmer's research has been the study of self-nonself discrimination -- that is, how the immune system distinguishes between useful T cells and harmful T cells, and how it destroys or inactivates potentially harmful "self-reactive" T cells. In the mid-1980's, in collaboration with several other research groups, von Boehmer and colleagues established T-cell receptor (TCR) transgenic mice with the goal of using them to study self-nonself discrimination. This was a major technical and conceptual breakthrough for immuno-logy research and the study of self-nonself discrimination. It enabled von Boehmer and others to show that potentially harmful immature T cells are eliminated, or deleted, in the thymus during the process of T-cell development. He also used gene-deficient and TCR-transgenic mice for experiments that shed light on the mechanisms by which immature T cells develop into one of two possible types of mature T cells -- killer (cytotoxic) T cells or helper T cells.

In his lecture, von Boehmer will discuss, as he puts it, "the struggle of lymphocytes for survival by trying to make the right receptors and engaging with various ligands throughout life."

Von Boehmer was born in Guben, Germany, and in 1968 received his medical diploma from the University of Munich. He prepared a thesis at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Munich as part of his work towards his M.D. degree. In 1971, he went to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia, to pursue a Ph.D. as a fellow of the Max Planck Society. He received his Ph.D. in medical biology from Melbourne University in 1974. From 1973 to 1996 he did research at the Basel Institute for Immunology, where he became a permanent member in 1976.

Since 1982, he has been an adjunct professor in the department of pathology at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and since 1991 he has also been professor of immunology at the University of Basel. From 1992 to 1994, von Boehmer served as director of research at INSERM in France. He has been professor of immunology at Faculté de Médecine Necker since 1993, and this year also became director of Unité INSERM 373.

The R.E. Dyer Lecture is a special Thursday lecture that is part of the NIH Director's Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series. All NIH employees are invited to attend. For more information, contact Hilda Madine, 4-5595.

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