What is the effect of genetic variation on B and T cell fate and disease susceptibility?

Project Overview

BCR sequence networks show the B cell population structure in (from left to right) a healthy ...

Immunological health relies on a balance between the ability to mount an immune response against potential pathogens and tolerance to self. B and T cells are key to the immune response by producing antibodies and cytotoxic T cells. B/T cell clones selectively expand following antigen recognition by B and T cell receptors (BCR and TCR) respectively.BCRs are the membrane-form of antibodies and are generated through DNA recombination resulting in the potential to recognise a vast array of pathogens. Defects in the ability to mount effective B cell or T cell responses have been implicated in infectious susceptibility, impaired surveillance of cancer and immunodeficiencies, whereas a breakdown of immunological tolerance has been attributed to autoimmune diseases such as through autoantibody production and reduced numbers of regulatory B/T cells. 



This project will combine large scale genomic datasets, BCR/TCR sequencing and single-cell genetic technologies to link the development, regulation and function of B and T cell populations in health and immunological diseases to the underlying host genetics. Through the coupling of single-cell transcriptomics and B/T cell tracking through the B/T cell receptor respectively, this project aims to determine how different lymphocyte subsets are developmentally linked and differences in function, and therefore providing a platform to understand how B and T cell fate may be different in human disease. Secondly, we have the opportunity to integrate genomics, transcriptomics, serological and metabolomics data, B /T cell receptor repertoire and viromics datasets to investigate the effect of both genetic variation and environmental factors on B cell fate, regulation, and the relationship to disease susceptibility. This will lead us to a better understanding of why certain individuals are at greater risk of developing immunological disease, as well as to potentially identify therapeutic targets or improved clinical management.

Training Opportunities

The DPhil will gain experience and training in laboratory molecular biology and single cell methods, bioinformatics and immunology. These include:


Immunology & Infectious Disease and Genetics & Genomics


Project reference number: 981

Funding and admissions information


Name Department Institution Country Email
Rachael Bashford-Rogers Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics Oxford University, Henry Wellcome Building of Genomic Medicine GBR rb520@cam.ac.uk
John Todd FRS, FMedSci Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics Oxford University, Henry Wellcome Building of Genomic Medicine GBR john.todd@well.ox.ac.uk

Bashford-Rogers RJM, Smith KGC, Thomas DC. 2018. Antibody repertoire analysis in polygenic autoimmune diseases. Immunology, 155 (1), pp. 3-17. Read abstract | Read more

High-throughput sequencing of the DNA/RNA encoding antibody heavy- and light-chains is rapidly transforming the field of adaptive immunity. It can address key questions, including: (i) how the B-cell repertoire differs in health and disease; and (ii) if it does differ, the point(s) in B-cell development at which this occurs. The advent of technologies, such as whole-genome sequencing, offers the chance to link abnormalities in the B-cell antibody repertoire to specific genomic variants and polymorphisms. Here, we discuss the current research using B-cell antibody repertoire sequencing in three polygenic autoimmune diseases where there is good evidence for a pathological role for B-cells, namely systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. These autoimmune diseases exhibit significantly skewed B-cell receptor repertoires compared with healthy controls. Interestingly, some common repertoire defects are shared between diseases, such as elevated IGHV4-34 gene usage. B-cell clones have effectively been characterized and tracked between different tissues and blood in autoimmune disease. It has been hypothesized that these differences may signify differences in B-cell tolerance; however, the mechanisms and implications of these defects are not clear. Hide abstract

Espéli M, Bashford-Rogers R, Sowerby JM, Alouche N, Wong L, Denton AE, Linterman MA, Smith KGC. 2019. FcγRIIb differentially regulates pre-immune and germinal center B cell tolerance in mouse and human. Nat Commun, 10 (1), pp. 1970. Read abstract | Read more

Several tolerance checkpoints exist throughout B cell development to control autoreactive B cells and prevent the generation of pathogenic autoantibodies. FcγRIIb is an Fc receptor that inhibits B cell activation and, if defective, is associated with autoimmune disease, yet its impact on specific B cell tolerance checkpoints is unknown. Here we show that reduced expression of FcγRIIb enhances the deletion and anergy of autoreactive immature B cells, but in contrast promotes autoreactive B cell expansion in the germinal center and serum autoantibody production, even in response to exogenous, non-self antigens. Our data thus show that FcγRIIb has opposing effects on pre-immune and post-immune tolerance checkpoints, and suggest that B cell tolerance requires the control of bystander germinal center B cells with low or no affinity for the immunizing antigen. Hide abstract

Bashford-Rogers RJ, Palser AL, Huntly BJ, Rance R, Vassiliou GS, Follows GA, Kellam P. 2013. Network properties derived from deep sequencing of human B-cell receptor repertoires delineate B-cell populations. Genome Res., 23 (11), pp. 1874-84. Read abstract | Read more

The adaptive immune response selectively expands B- and T-cell clones following antigen recognition by B- and T-cell receptors (BCR and TCR), respectively. Next-generation sequencing is a powerful tool for dissecting the BCR and TCR populations at high resolution, but robust computational analyses are required to interpret such sequencing. Here, we develop a novel computational approach for BCR repertoire analysis using established next-generation sequencing methods coupled with network construction and population analysis. BCR sequences organize into networks based on sequence diversity, with differences in network connectivity clearly distinguishing between diverse repertoires of healthy individuals and clonally expanded repertoires from individuals with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and other clonal blood disorders. Network population measures defined by the Gini Index and cluster sizes quantify the BCR clonality status and are robust to sampling and sequencing depths. BCR network analysis therefore allows the direct and quantifiable comparison of BCR repertoires between samples and intra-individual population changes between temporal or spatially separated samples and over the course of therapy. Hide abstract

Petrova VN, Muir L, McKay PF, Vassiliou GS, Smith KGC, Lyons PA, Russell CA, Anderson CA, Kellam P, Bashford-Rogers RJM. 2018. Combined Influence of B-Cell Receptor Rearrangement and Somatic Hypermutation on B-Cell Class-Switch Fate in Health and in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. Front Immunol, 9 pp. 1784. Read abstract | Read more

A diverse B-cell receptor (BCR) repertoire is required to bind a wide range of antigens. BCRs are generated through genetic recombination and can be diversified through somatic hypermutation (SHM) or class-switch recombination (CSR). Patterns of repertoire diversity can vary substantially between different health conditions. We use isotype-resolved BCR sequencing to compare B-cell evolution and class-switch fate in healthy individuals and in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). We show that the patterns of SHM and CSR in B-cells from healthy individuals are distinct from CLL. We identify distinct properties of clonal expansion that lead to the generation of antibodies of different classes in healthy, malignant, and non-malignant CLL BCR repertoires. We further demonstrate that BCR diversity is affected by relationships between antibody variable and constant regions leading to isotype-specific signatures of variable gene usage. This study provides powerful insights into the mechanisms underlying the evolution of the adaptive immune responses in health and their aberration during disease. Hide abstract

De Mattos-Arruda L, Sammut SJ, Ross EM, Bashford-Rogers R, Greenstein E, Markus H, Morganella S, Teng Y, Maruvka Y, Pereira B, Rueda OM, Chin SF, Contente-Cuomo T, Mayor R, Arias A, Ali HR, Cope W, Tiezzi D, Dariush A, Dias Amarante T, Reshef D, Ciriaco N, Martinez-Saez E, Peg V, Ramon Y Cajal S, Cortes J, Vassiliou G, Getz G, Nik-Zainal S, Murtaza M, Friedman N, Markowetz F, Seoane J, Caldas C. 2019. The Genomic and Immune Landscapes of Lethal Metastatic Breast Cancer. Cell Rep, 27 (9), pp. 2690-2708.e10. Read abstract | Read more

The detailed molecular characterization of lethal cancers is a prerequisite to understanding resistance to therapy and escape from cancer immunoediting. We performed extensive multi-platform profiling of multi-regional metastases in autopsies from 10 patients with therapy-resistant breast cancer. The integrated genomic and immune landscapes show that metastases propagate and evolve as communities of clones, reveal their predicted neo-antigen landscapes, and show that they can accumulate HLA loss of heterozygosity (LOH). The data further identify variable tumor microenvironments and reveal, through analyses of T cell receptor repertoires, that adaptive immune responses appear to co-evolve with the metastatic genomes. These findings reveal in fine detail the landscapes of lethal metastatic breast cancer. Hide abstract