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Intestinal Immune Cell Network Discovered

Could lead to new vaccines, treatments for disease, researchers say



THURSDAY, Jan. 13 (HealthDayNews) -- A newly identified network of gastrointestinal immune cells in mammals could help scientists better understand how the immune system recognizes and responds to dangerous bacteria and viruses.


That, in turn, could lead to new vaccines and treatments for gastrointestinal diseases, a new study claims.


The discovery was made by a research group based at the Center for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital; a report on the finding appears in the Jan. 14 issue of Science.


"We found an extensive system of immune cells throughout the intestinal tract that take up bacteria and other antigens, giving us a new target for the understanding of the immune response," study senior author Dr. Hans-Christian Reinecker said in a prepared statement.


In research with mice, the scientists identified populations of dendritic cells throughout the small intestine, in a layer just below the epithelial lining. Previously, it was believed there were only a limited number of gastrointestinal dendritic cells and they were confined to specific areas.


Dendritic cells are found in tissues -- skin, lungs and digestive system -- that come into direct contact with the external environment. These cells are constantly scanning for bacteria and viruses. When dendritic cells detect dangerous bacteria or viruses, the cells ingest them, break them down, and mark the protein fragments for destruction by other immune system cells.


"This is a new way for the immune system in the gastrointestinal tract to monitor and interact with the environment. Insights into these mechanisms could lead to a better understanding of conditions such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, intestinal infections and food allergy," Reinecker said.


"Targeting these dendritic cells also could help us develop new types of vaccines. And it's possible that some of the gastrointestinal bacteria and viruses that cause serious illness may co-opt the activity of these cells to enter the body and bypass some immune defenses," he added.


More information


The Nemours Foundation has more about the immune system.




-- Robert Preidt




SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, Jan. 13, 2004


Last Updated: Jan-13-2005

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