Immune responses that adapt the intestinal mucosa to commensal intestinal bacteria


Dr A. J. Macpherson, Institute of Experimental Immunology, Universitätsspital, Schmelzbergstrasse 12, CH-8091 Zürich, Switzerland.
Senior author: Andrew Macpherson


Animals contain an enormous load of non-pathogenic bacteria in the lower intestine, which exploit an environment with a stable temperature and abundant carbon sources. Our load of bacteria outnumbers our own cells. In order to survive with such a high number of organisms in very close proximity to host tissues the intestinal mucosa and its immune system is highly adapted. Mucosal immune responses are induced by small numbers of live commensal organisms penetrating the Peyer's patches and persisting in dendritic cells (DC). These DC can induce immunoglobulin A+ (IgA+) B cells, which recirculate through the lymph and bloodstream to populate the lamina propria and secrete protective IgA. Because DC loaded with commensal bacteria do not penetrate further than the mesenteric lymph nodes, immune induction to commensals is confined to the mucosa, allowing strong mucosal immune responses to be induced whilst the systemic immune system remains relatively ignorant of these organisms.