Image of Mahima Swamy
Doctor Mahima Swamy
E: m.swamy@dundee.ac.uk
T: 01382388615
F: 01382 223778


Background Information

Mahima hails from Bangalore, India, and studied Biological Sciences and Biotechnology in the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences, Pilani in Rajasthan, India. Her research career started with her Master's theses at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore, in the lab of Prof. K. VijayRaghavan, working on Drosophila muscle development.
For her PhD, Mahima moved to the Max-Planck Institute of Immunobiology (MPIIB) in Freiburg, Germany. In Wolfgang Schamel’s lab, she solved the long-standing questions of the stoichiometries of the αβ and γδ T cell antigen receptors (TCR) complexes using novel Blue-Native gel electrophoresis-based techniques. She also worked on the mechanisms of activation of the TCR and showed that TCRs exist as pre-formed oligomers, which undergo a conformational change to get activated. She showed that these pre-formed oligomers of the TCR, although inactive, increase sensitivity for the antigen by increasing the avidity of binding. This was a novel concept to explain the high-sensitivity of the TCR despite its low affinity for ligand.
During a short postdoc in Freiburg, she made the surprising discovery that cholesterol directly interacts with the TCR to hold oligomers of the TCR together. However, cholesterol plays a dual function in regulating TCR function – it also maintains the TCR in a closed conformation. Disrupting the TCR-cholesterol interaction allows TCRs to spontaneously switch to an active conformation.
While studying the biochemistry of the TCR, Mahima realised that she needed a broader understanding of the cellular roles that T lymphocytes play. In CRUK’s London Research Institute, in Prof. Adrian Hayday’s lab, she started working on intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs), innate-like T cells that are apparently activated by means other than through their TCR. Funded by both EMBO (2009) and Marie-Curie (2010-12) postdoctoral fellowships, she worked to dissect the role of an intestinal epithelial surface molecule, Btnl1, in immune surveillance. During this time, she also addressed other functional roles of intestinal IEL and showed that a major effect of IEL on epithelial cells was to increase their antiviral resistance. This work cemented her interest in unconventional T lymphocytes.
Mahima moved to the University of Dundee in 2013 to focus on her two research interests – signal transduction and immunology. As an independent investigator with Prof. Cantrell, she uncovered roles for the novel post-translational modification, O-GlcNAc, in T cell lymphomagenesis and T cell development. She showed that metabolic cues from glucose and glutamine are integrated by the enzyme that adds this modification to proteins, O-GlcNAc transferase (OGT). In parallel, she continued to explore the interactions between IEL and intestinal epithelial cells, using powerful mass-spectrometry based approaches to identify novel molecular interactions.
In December 2016 Mahima started as a group leader in the MRC-PPU to pursue her research interests in IEL function and their communication with intestinal epithelial cells.