Immune system vs. gut bacteria: How vitamin A ‘keeps the peace’

By Ana Sandoiu

New findings about the role of vitamin A in mediating the relationship between gut bacteria and the immune system may prove “critical” for devising new therapies for autoimmune conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and other inflammatory diseases that affect the intestine.

Scientists have known for some time that the microbiome helps regulate immune responses. However, many of the detailed mechanisms behind this interaction remained unknown. For instance, how exactly does the body’s immune system — which is designed to protect us against pathogens — allow for these friendly bacteria to live “happily” in our gut?

New research may have found an answer: vitamin A. A team of scientists, led by Shipra Vaishnava, an assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Brown University in Providence, RI, found that moderate levels of vitamin A in the intestine prevent the immune system from becoming overactive.

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