Abstract

The recent discovery of molecular defects in three forms of X-linked immunodeficiency has quickly transformed the study of immunodeficiency into one of the most exciting in basic and clinical immunology. The identification of defects in the IL-2R gamma chain in the etiology of X- linked SCID has suggested a heretofore unanticipated functional role of the gamma chain in immunologic development. While new and novel cytokines and cytokine receptors continue to be identified, it has become clear that our knowledge of IL-2, one of the best understood cytokine/receptor systems, is far from complete. Clarifying the molecular interactions between IL-2 and its receptor complex will improve the sophistication with which these interactions are manipulated in the clinic for the treatment of autoimmune disorders and allograft rejection, treatment of lymphoid malignancies, and cytokine- based therapies for immunotherapeutic treatment of nonlymphoid cancers. Recent gene therapy approaches to the treatment of children with the ADA-deficient form of SCID offers yet another exciting path for investigation. The use of retrovirally infected cord blood hematopoietic progenitor cells in attempts to reconstitute the immune system of ADA-deficient SCID children with ADA-producing cells raises the possibility of similarly “correcting” the defect in X-linked SCID. Such approaches almost certainly loom on the near horizon for other diseases. However, in view of the complexity and potentially pleiomorphic nature of defects in the IL-2R gamma chain, both in terms of their identification and correction, gene therapy for treatment of X- linked SCID will require a thorough understanding of the molecular nature of the respective defects. Effective therapy will require precise knowledge of the defects, in terms of their influence on the ligand, receptor, and signaling apparatus, as well as their potential effects on cells of multiple lineages. However, these caveats aside, the potential for understanding and correcting a disease that robs infants at so early an age of the potential for a normal life will continue to make these exciting and extraordinarily rewarding pursuits.

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