Nutrition and the immune system of the gut
Studies suggest that the development and expression of the regional immune system in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is relatively independent of systemic immunity. This is reflected in significant differences in functional response of T cells and B cells and affects cytokine patterns and activation pathways when regional immunity is compared to systemic immunity. Nutrients have fundamental and regulatory influences on the immune response of the GI tract and, therefore, on host defense. In addition to the effect of nutrition during development, the local impact of different dietary and antigenic elements on the regional immune system contributes to potential diversion of the two systems throughout life. The route of exposure during antigenic contact is known to affect host immune response, whether it be a normal process, happening in the context of normal environmental encounter with nonpathogenic microbes or planned immunization, or occurring as a result of resolution of a potentially pathologic process i.e., an infectious encounter. Interactions at the local level profoundly influence systemic immune response, in part because of intrinsic differences in these systems, and also because of different requirements for optimal function. Although inflammatory processes are central to host defense in the periphery, the protective blocking action of the secretory immunoglobulin A immune response is crucial to local host defense, and, therefore, to the integrity of GI tract immune function. For these reasons, interaction with normal bacteria of the GI tract may be seen as the model of how the system has evolved and provide clues to the restoration of balance in the immunocompromised host. Reduction of normal commensal bacteria in the context of infection or after antibiotic treatment may interfere with nutrient availability and impair beneficial stimulation of GI immune response. This impairment may be associated with continued colonization with opportunistic microbes and inflammatory immune response that could lead to malabsorption and malnutrition. Study of the impact of nutrient imbalance on the function of the GI tract has profound implications for clinical medicine and may in the future lead to the rational design of preventive approaches to support immune response and host defense.