The enigmatic tuft cell in immunity

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Science  18 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6279, pp. 1264-1265
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf5215

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Helminth and protozoan parasites are the most common infectious agents of humans living in developing countries and represent an important disease burden, particularly through their ability to cause physical and intellectual growth retardation in young children (1, 2). Type 2 immune responses promote efficient expulsion of intestinal parasites such as helminths by driving a “weep and sweep” response that involves mucous production, fluid secretion, and increased intestinal motility. These same responses in susceptible individuals cause the symptoms of allergy after exposure to pollens and certain food antigens. The generation of type 2 immunity in response to helminth parasites requires the secretion of cytokines by intestinal epithelial cells, but the source and induction of cytokine secretion have been unclear. Three studies (35), including a report by Howitt et al. (5) on page 1329 of this issue, reveal a key role for a rare intestinal cell—the tuft or brush cell—in driving type 2 immunity.