Our body’s relationship with bacteria is complex. While infectious bacteria can cause illness, our gut is also teaming with “good” bacteria that aids nutrition and helps keep us healthy. But even the “good” can have bad effects if these bacteria end up in tissues and organs where they’re not supposed to be.
Now, research published in Nature reveals insights into how the body maintains this balance. Investigations with mice demonstrate that early life is a critical time when the immune system learns to recognize gut bacteria and sets up surveillance that keeps them in check. Defects in these mechanisms could help explain why the immune system sometimes attacks good bacteria in the wrong place, causing the chronic inflammation that’s responsible for inflammatory bowel disease, the study’s authors say
To establish a healthy relationship with “good” gut bacteria, the body trains the immune system to recognize these microbes at early stages.
“From the time we are born, our immune system is set up so that it can learn as much as it can to distinguish the good from the bad,” says Matthew Bettini, Ph.D., associate professor of pathology at U of U Health and co-corresponding author with Sloan Kettering Institute immunologist Gretchen Diehl, Ph.D. “Our studies make clear that there is a window in which gut microbiota have access to the immune education process. This opens up possibilities for designing therapeutics that can influence the trajectory of the immune system during this early time point.”