26 April 2013
The gut immune system faces unique challenges, not least of which is the sheer size of the organ it has to protect.
The surface area of the adult digestive tract is estimated to be equivalent to that of a tennis court. With such a large area to cover, the gut immune system must work extra hard to prevent pathogens from entering into circulation. It also has to continuously confront an enormous microbial load.
It is no wonder therefore that the gut immune system sometimes gets it wrong, and sets off unwanted immune responses against harmless compounds (allergens), resulting in allergic diseases such as food allergy.
Allergens or bacteria that penetrate the gut barrier are engulfed by a specialised class of immune cells called dendritic cells. Dendritic cells, of which there are several different types, are rare immune cells that are central to the initiation of all immune responses.
Through careful investigation of the gut immune system, Research Fellow Dr Lisa Connor and Masters Student Kerry Hilligan identified a novel population of gut dendritic cells that have the capacity to drive the allergic Th2 immune response.
Understanding more about this particular class of gut dendritic cells will provide important insights into the signals that direct immune responses towards an allergic phenotype.
This knowledge could aid in the development of therapies for allergic diseases such as food allergy.
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