A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Microbiomes of Mice and Men

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Gut bacteria regulate the intestinal immune system by moderating vitamin A levels.

A team of researchers from Brown University found that in mice, the gut microbiome regulates the host’s immune system—so that rather than the host’s defense system attacking these helpful bacteria, the bacteria can coexist peacefully with the immune system. 

The trick, they wrote in a recent paper in the journal Immunity, is vitamin A: the bacteria moderate active vitamin A levels in the intestine, protecting the microbiome from an overactive immune response.

That insight may prove important for understanding and treating autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, says Shipra Vaishnava, PhD, an assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology. 

“A lot of these diseases are attributed to increased immune response or immune activation, but we’ve found a new way that bacteria in our gut can dampen the immune response,” Vaishnava says. “This research could be critical in determining therapies in the case of autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease or other inflammatory bowel diseases, as well as vitamin A deficiency.” 

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