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Border Patrol: Immune Cells Protect Body from Invaders

So-called barrier sites -- the skin, gut, lung – limit the inner body’s exposure to allergens, pollutants, viruses, bacteria, and parasites.

Understanding how the immune system works in these external surfaces has implications for understanding such inflammatory diseases as asthma, psoriasis, IBD, and food allergies, all of which occur at the body’s barriers.

David Artis, PhD, professor of Microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and Gregory F. Sonnenberg, a predoctoral fellow in the Artis lab, have identified an immune cell population that acts as the body’s border patrol with the outside world. They discovered that these lymphoid tissue inducer cells maintain immunity in the intestine of mice. The research appeared in the most recent online issue of Immunity.

Following infection by Citrobacter rodentium -- a model of human E. coli infection in the gut – this cell population was the dominant source of IL-22, a molecule that helps in the immune response during the early phases of infection. When the inducer cells were eliminated from the intestine of the experimental mice, immunity was impaired, affecting the production of anti-microbial proteins required to fight infection. The mice eventually died.

This discovery could also represent a new line of research for HIV/AIDS, says Artis, since there is a breakdown of barrier immunity in the gut (a reservoir for HIV) that can lead to full blown AIDS. Therapeutics to target such immune cells could be an important new way to combat AIDS.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Burroughs Welcome Fund, and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4 billion enterprise.

Penn's School of Medicine is currently ranked #2 in U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools and among the top 10 schools for primary care. The School is consistently among the nation’s top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $507.6 million awarded in the 2010 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania – recognized as one of the nation's top 10 hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; and Pennsylvania Hospital – the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Penn Medicine also includes additional patient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2010, Penn Medicine provided $788 million to benefit our community.

Karen Kreeger | EurekAlert!
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