Homing of immune cells: role in homeostasis and intestinal inflammation

Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2010 Nov;16(11):1969-77. doi: 10.1002/ibd.21304.


Rather like a satellite navigation system directing a vehicle to a particular destination defined by post-code, immune cells have homing molecules or "immune post-codes" enabling them to be recruited to specific organs, such as the intestine or skin. An efficient system would be designed such that the site of entry of an antigen influences the homing of effector T cells back to the appropriate organ. For example, to mount an immune response against an intestinal pathogen, T cells with a propensity to home to the gut to clear the infection would be induced. In health, there is such a sophisticated and finely tuned system in operation, enabling an appropriate balance of immune activity in different anatomical compartments. In disease states such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is characterized by intestinal inflammation and often an inflammatory process involving other organs such as skin, joints, liver, and eye, there is accumulating evidence that there is malfunction of this immune cell trafficking system. The clinical importance of dysregulated immune cell trafficking in IBD is reflected in recently proven efficacious therapies that target trafficking pathways such as natalizumab, an α4 integrin antibody, and Traficet-EN, a chemokine receptor-9 (CCR9) antagonist. Here we review the mechanisms involved in the homing of immune cells to different tissues, in particular the intestine, and focus on alterations in immune cell homing pathways in IBD. Unraveling the mechanisms underlying the immune post-code system would assist in achieving the goal of tissue-specific immunotherapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Cell Migration Inhibition / drug effects
  • Dendritic Cells / drug effects
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology*
  • Homeostasis / drug effects
  • Homeostasis / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / drug therapy
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / immunology*
  • Integrin alpha4 / immunology
  • Intestines / drug effects
  • Intestines / immunology
  • Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Natalizumab
  • Receptors, CCR / antagonists & inhibitors


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • CC chemokine receptor 9
  • Natalizumab
  • Receptors, CCR
  • Integrin alpha4