Research – How foodborne diseases protect the gut’s nervous system

Science Daily

A simple stomach bug could do a lot of damage. There are 100 million neurons scattered along the gastrointestinal tract — directly in the line of fire — that can be stamped out by gut infections, potentially leading to long-term GI disease.

But there may be an upside to enteric infection. A new study finds that mice infected with bacteria or parasites develop a unique form of tolerance quite unlike the textbook immune response. The research, published in Cell, describes how gut macrophages respond to prior insult by shielding enteric neurons, preventing them from dying off when future pathogens strike. These findings may ultimately have clinical implications for conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, which have been linked to the runaway death of intestinal neurons.

“We’re describing a sort of innate memory that persists after the primary infection is gone,” says Rockefeller’s Daniel Mucida. “This tolerance does not exist to kill future pathogens, but to deal with the damage that infection causes — preserving the number of neurons in the intestine.”

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