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Innate and Adaptive Immunity Cooperate Flexibly to Maintain Host-Microbiota Mutualism

Science  31 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5940, pp. 617-620
DOI: 10.1126/science.1172747

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Maintaining Mutual Ignorance

Our gut is colonized by trillions of bacteria that do not activate the immune system because of careful compartmentalization. Such compartmentalization means that our immune system is “ignorant” of these microbes and thus it has been proposed that loss of compartmentalization might result in an immune response to the colonizing bacteria. Microorganisms are sensed by cells that express pattern recognition receptors, such as Toll-like receptors, which recognize patterns specific to those microbes. Slack et al. (p. 617) show that Toll-like receptor–dependent signaling is required to maintain compartmentalization of bacteria to the gut of mice. In the absence of Toll-dependent signaling, intestinal bacteria disseminated throughout the body and the mice mounted a high-titer antibody response against them. This antibody response was of great functional importance because, despite the loss of systemic ignorance to intestinal microbes, the mice were tolerant of the bacteria. Thus, in the absence of innate immunity, the adaptive immune system can compensate so that host and bacterial mutualism can be maintained.

Abstract

Commensal bacteria in the lower intestine of mammals are 10 times as numerous as the body’s cells. We investigated the relative importance of different immune mechanisms in limiting the spread of the intestinal microbiota. Here, we reveal a flexible continuum between innate and adaptive immune function in containing commensal microbes. Mice deficient in critical innate immune functions such as Toll-like receptor signaling or oxidative burst production spontaneously produce high-titer serum antibodies against their commensal microbiota. These antibody responses are functionally essential to maintain host-commensal mutualism in vivo in the face of innate immune deficiency. Spontaneous hyper-activation of adaptive immunity against the intestinal microbiota, secondary to innate immune deficiency, may clarify the underlying mechanisms of inflammatory diseases where immune dysfunction is implicated.

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