Chitin regulation of immune responses: an old molecule with new roles

Curr Opin Immunol. 2008 Dec;20(6):684-9. doi: 10.1016/j.coi.2008.10.002. Epub 2008 Nov 1.


Chitin, the second most abundant polysaccharide in nature, is commonly found in lower organisms such as fungi, crustaceans, and insects, but not in mammals. Although the non-specific anti-viral and anti-tumor activities of chitin/chitin derivatives were described two decades ago, the immunological effects of chitin have been only recently been addressed. Recent studies demonstrated that chitin has complex and size-dependent effects on innate and adaptive immune responses including the ability to recruit and activate innate immune cells and induce cytokine and chemokine production via a variety of cell surface receptors including macrophage mannose receptor, toll-like receptor 2 (TLR-2), and Dectin-1. They also demonstrated adjuvant effects of chitin in allergen-induced type 1 or type 2 inflammation and provided insights into the important roles of chitinases and chitinase-like proteins (C/CLP) in pulmonary inflammation. The status of the field and areas of controversy are highlighted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chitin / chemistry
  • Chitin / immunology*
  • Chitin / metabolism
  • Chitinases / metabolism
  • Chitosan / chemistry
  • Chitosan / immunology*
  • Chitosan / metabolism
  • Cytokines / immunology*
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / enzymology
  • Epithelial Cells / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Macrophage Activation / immunology
  • Pneumonia / immunology
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / immunology


  • Cytokines
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Chitin
  • Chitosan
  • Chitinases