Pillai Lab

Research topics include: B cell Development and Lineage Commitment; A Novel Cell Surface Acetylation/Deacetylation Paradigm for Regulating Humoral Immunity and Development; Characterizing Peripheral Human B cells and B cells in Patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia


Shiv Pillai, MD, PhD
Professor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School

Associate Geneticist
Center for Cancer Research

Research Summary

The Pillai laboratory asks questions about the biology of the immune system and human genetics. Some of these questions are: 1) Can we manipulate the immune system to treat cancer and to increase immunological memory? 2) Can we understand how genetics and the environment affect lymphoid clones to drive common diseases? and 3) Can this latter information be used to better understand and develop new therapies for chronic inflammatory human diseases such as arthritis, lupus and IgG4-related disease? Our discovery of the role of an enzyme called Btk in the activation of B cells has contributed to the generation of Btk inhibitors that are effective in B cell malignancies and in trials of autoimmunity. One of the pathways we are currently studying suggests new approaches for the treatment of autoimmune disorders. We have also found a novel way to strengthen immune responses and enhance helper T cell memory that provides hope for developing more effective personalized immune-system based treatments for cancer.

Read the Pillai Lab's Annual Report in Full

Group Members

Shiv Pillai MD, PhD
Principal Investigator

Group Members

  • Hugues Allard-Chamard, MD, PhD
  • Faisal Alsufyani, MD
  • Joe Daccache
  • Ezana Demissie*
  • Jocelyn Farmer, MD, PhD
  • Isabella Fraschilla
  • Takashi Maehara, DDS, PhD
  • Vinay Mahajan, MD, PhD
  • Hamid Mattoo, PhD
  • Cory Perugino, DO
  • Ian Rosenberg, PhD
  • Yesim Tuncay
  • Vinay Vishwanadham
  • Kai Xin, PhD
  • Kelley Xing

* PhD Candidate

Research Projects

A novel human T cell subset that drives fibrosis (NIAID Autoimmune Center of Excellence at MGH)

In studies on the immunology of IgG4 related disease and scleroderma, performed in collaboration with John Stone in Rheumatology, we have identified an unusual, clonally expanded and potentially “fibrogenic” human CD4+ effector T cell subset. The differentiation and protective role of these CD4+ CTLs in cancer and chronic viral infections is currently being investigated.

Studies on murine and human B cell development and activation

We are using a number of single cell transcriptomic, epigenetic and genetic approaches to examine the heterogeneity and development of murine and human B cells, as well as the molecular bases of the processes of T-B collaboration and germinal center formation.

DNA methylation, B cell self-renewal and chronic lymphocytic leukemia

We have long been interested in cell fate decisions in B cell development and in the development of self-renewing B cell subsets. The roles of DNMT3a in B-1a B cell self-renewal and of specific methylation events in chronic lymphocytic leukemia are being investigated.

Dock2 regulates T cell memory and T-B collaboration

We have identified Dock2 as a regulator of the strength of the immune response and the generation of CD8+ and CD4+ T cell memory. This gene also contributes the strength of the germinal center response. The inactivation of this gene leads to the clearance of intracellular pathogens and may enhance anti-tumor immunity.


View a list of publications by researchers at the Pillai Laboratory

Selected Publications

Yuen G, Demissie E and Pillai S. (2016) B cells and Cancer: a love-hate relationship. Trends in Cancer. in press.

Mahajan, V.S., Demissie, E., Mattoo, H., Viswanadham, V., Varki, A., Morris, R., and Pillai, S. (2016). Striking Immune Phenotypes in Gene-Targeted Mice Are Driven by a Copy-Number Variant Originating from a Commercially Available C57BL/6 Strain. Cell. Rep 15, 1901-1909.

Mattoo, H., Mahajan, V.S., Maehara, T., Deshpande, V., Della-Torre, E., Wallace, Z.S., Kulikova, M., Drijvers, J.M., Daccache, J., Carruthers, M.N., et al. (2016). Clonal expansion of CD4+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes in patients with IgG4-related disease. J Allergy Clin Immunol. Epub ahead of print.

Mahajan, V.S., and Pillai, S. (2016). Sialic acids and autoimmune disease. Immunol. Rev 269, 145-161.

Kamisawa, T., Zen, Y., Pillai, S., and Stone, J.H. (2015). IgG4-related disease. Lancet. 385, 1460-1471.


Contact Us

Pillai Laboratory

7th FloorBldg 149, 13th Street Charlestown, MA 02129

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