Editors' ChoiceImmunology

Maintaining Mutual Ignorance

Sci. Signal.  04 Aug 2009:
Vol. 2, Issue 82, pp. ec260
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.282ec260

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. 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.

E. Slack, S. Hapfelmeier, B. Stecher, Y. Velykoredko, M. Stoel, M. A. E. Lawson, M. B. Geuking, B. Beutler, T. F. Tedder, W.-D. Hardt, P. Bercik, E. F. Verdu, K. D. McCoy, A. J. Macpherson, Innate and adaptive immunity cooperate flexibly to maintain host-microbiota mutualism. Science 325, 617–620 (2009).[Abstract] [Full Text]