Allergy and the Gastrointestinal System

Clin Exp Immunol. 2008 Sep;153 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):3-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03713.x.

Abstract

The gastrointestinal system plays a central role in immune system homeostasis. It is the main route of contact with the external environment and is overloaded every day with external stimuli, sometimes dangerous as pathogens (bacteria, protozoa, fungi, viruses) or toxic substances, in other cases very useful as food or commensal flora. The crucial position of the gastrointestinal system is testified by the huge amount of immune cells that reside within it. Indeed, gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) is the prominent part of mucosal-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) and represents almost 70% of the entire immune system; moreover, about 80% of plasma cells [mainly immunoglobulin A (IgA)-bearing cells] reside in GALT. GALT interacts strictly with gastrointestinal functions in a dynamic manner; for instance, by increasing intestinal permeability in replay to particular stimulations, or orientating the immune response towards luminal content, allowing either tolerance or elimination/degradation of luminal antigens, or sometimes provoking damage to the intestinal mucosa, such as in coeliac disease or food allergy. The immune mechanisms implicated in these actions are very complex and belong to both innate and adaptive immunity; innate immunity supplies an immediate non-specific response that is indispensable before specific adaptive immunity, which needs 7-10 days to be efficacious, takes place. The results of their interactions depend upon different contexts in which contact with external agents occurs and may change according to different genetic settings of the hosts.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / immunology*
  • Immune Tolerance / immunology
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Intestinal Absorption / immunology
  • Lymphoid Tissue / immunology*
  • Plasma Cells / immunology