Mucus Coat, a Dress Code for Tolerance

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Science  25 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6157, pp. 432-433
DOI: 10.1126/science.1246252

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The gastrointestinal tract is home to the highest density of commensal bacteria in the human body and is a primary site of pathogen exposure. Understanding how the immune system recognizes and responds to friend or foe in the gut is central to developing treatments for allergic and inflammatory diseases. Both specialized cells and structural compartmentalization of the gut are key controllers of immune responses. In particular, a mucus layer covers the entire gastrointestinal tract, physically separating the microbiota from host tissue and preventing pathogen invasion (1). On page 447 of this issue, Shan et al. (2) reveal that mucus does more than act as a shield—it also influences the function of intestinal antigen-presenting cells and epithelial cells to sustain the ability of the host to maintain tolerance toward food and commensal antigens.