Thursday, January 27, 2011

Our Guts 'R Us

It dents my tidy self image just a bit when I read articles like this one from Atarashi et al. (summarized by Barnes and Powrie). A very indispensible part of my 'self' is an astounding 1014 bacteria that reside in the large intestine alone, alongside various viruses, fungi, protozoa, and parasites, all of which can affect chronic disease progression. Lee and Mazmanian point out that:
Although microbes have been classically viewed as pathogens, it is now well established that the majority of host-bacterial interactions are symbiotic. During development and into adulthood, gut bacteria shape the tissues, cells, and molecular profile of our gastrointestinal immune system. This partnership, forged over many millennia of coevolution, is based on a molecular exchange involving bacterial signals that are recognized by host receptors to mediate beneficial outcomes for both microbes and humans....specific aspects of the adaptive immune system are influenced by intestinal commensal bacteria. Understanding the molecular mechanisms that mediate symbiosis between commensal bacteria and humans may redefine how we view the evolution of adaptive immunity and consequently how we approach the treatment of numerous immunologic disorders.
The Lee and  Mazmanian review contains this striking graphic:

Legend: The microbiome of various anatomical locations of the human body. Numerous bacterial species colonize the mouth, upper airways, skin, vagina, and intestinal tract of humans. The phylogenetic trees show the speciation of bacterial clades from common ancestors at each anatomical site. Although the communities in different regions of the body share similarities, they each have a unique site-specific “fingerprint” made of many distinct microbes. Each site has a very high level of diversity, as shown by the individual lines on the dendrograms. Data are from the NIH-funded Human Microbiome Project; circles represent bacterial species whose sequences are known.
The  Atarashi et al. article demonstrates that
...indigenous species of Clostridium bacteria, a large component of our mammalian microbiota, promote anti-inflammatory immune responses by expanding and activating regulatory T cells...Oral inoculation of Clostridium during the early life of conventionally reared mice results in resistance to colitis and systemic immunoglobulin E responses in adult mice, suggesting a new therapeutic approach to autoimmunity and allergy.
These results are of some interest to us humans!

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