Cruciferous vegetables help the immune system to fight intestinal pathogens

February 2, 2017, The Francis Crick Institute
Cruciferous vegetables help the immune system to fight intestinal pathogens
Credit: The Francis Crick Institute

A study in mice shows that eating cruciferous vegetables—including broccoli, kale and cauliflower - helps the immune system to fight intestinal pathogens. The research might have implications for people with inflammatory bowel diseases.

A protein called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) plays a crucial role in protecting us from external pollutants, toxins and pathogens at barrier sites in our body such as the skin, lungs and gut.

Studying the role of AhR in the gut, scientists at the Francis Crick Institute have discovered that another protein, known as Cyp1a1, regulates immunity in the gut by providing feedback on AhR signalling by degrading the molecules that activate AhR—known as AhR ligands

However, too much Cyp1a1 can deplete AhR ligands altogether. This could result in susceptibility to bacteria like pathogenic E. Coli and might play a role in conditions such as .

Dr Stockinger, who led the work, says: "We already knew that AhR deficiency causes many problems for the intestinal barrier. This is because the that protect us from our trillions of as well as from incoming intestinal pathogens require signals through AhR for their survival.

"Molecules that activate AhR can come from our diet, but also from our intestinal bacteria. Activation of AhR turns on enzymes such as Cyp1a1. Normally the function of these enzymes is to degrade the molecules that originally activated AhR and turn it back off."

The researchers created mice with overactive Cyp1a1—this depleted their AhR ligands and resulted in less of the immune cells that depend on AhR ligands. Unlike normal healthy mice, these mice were unable to fight off an infection with Citrobacter bacteria—the mouse version of human pathogenic E. Coli bacteria

Importantly, the increased activity of Cyp1a1 could be controlled by adding nutrients found in to the food the mice were fed. This worked in two ways—by inhibiting Cyp1a1 and by providing extra AhR-activating molecules.

Dr Stockinger says: "Previous work has mostly focused on the consequences of complete absence of AhR itself in various cell types, but this is not a scenario that will apply to humans as AhR deficiency would not be compatible with life.

"However, as indicated in our study it is entirely conceivable that some people have mutant Cyp1a1 enzymes that have abnormally high activity. In humans, this could play a role in inflammatory intestinal diseases where people with genetically determined overactive Cyp1a1 would be particularly sensitive to infections. Such people could potentially improve their intestinal immune function by eating cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale and cauliflower, which are high in such Cyp1a1 inhibitors and molecules that activate AhR."

The paper, Feedback control of AHR signalling regulates intestinal immunity, is published in Nature.

Explore further: Newly discovered bacteria-binding protein in the intestine

More information: Chris Schiering et al. Feedback control of AHR signalling regulates intestinal immunity, Nature (2017). DOI: 10.1038/nature21080

Related Stories

Newly discovered bacteria-binding protein in the intestine

December 8, 2016
Deficiency in a certain protein in the gastrointestinal tract has been shown to lead to both inflammation and abdominal fat accumulation in mice. The discovery provides yet another piece of the puzzle of how humans are affected—or ...

Immune system compensates for 'leaky gut' in inflammatory bowel disease susceptibility

September 13, 2012
New research could clarify how inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), conditions that include ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, are triggered and develop.

Eating green veggies improves immune defenses

October 13, 2011
Researchers reporting online in the journal Cell on October 13th have found another good reason to eat your green vegetables, although it may or may not win any arguments with kids at the dinner table.

Newly discovered gut organism protects mice from bacterial infections

October 6, 2016
While bacteria are often stars of the gut microbiome, emerging research depicts a more complex picture, where microorganisms from different kingdoms of life are actively working together or fighting against one another. In ...

Immune cells' bacteria may fight chronic inflammation

March 17, 2016
A population of bacteria inhabits human and mouse immune cells and appears to protect the body from inflammation and illness, Weill Cornell Medicine scientists discovered in a new study. The findings challenge conventional ...

Recommended for you

Fabric imbued with optical fibers helps fight skin diseases

February 23, 2018
A team of researchers with Texinov Medical Textiles in France has announced that their PHOS-ISTOS system, called the Fluxmedicare, is on track to be made commercially available later this year. The system consists of a piece ...

Low-calorie diet enhances intestinal regeneration after injury

February 22, 2018
Dramatic calorie restriction, diets reduced by 40 percent of a normal calorie total, have long been known to extend health span, the duration of disease-free aging, in animal studies, and even to extend life span in most ...

Artificial intelligence quickly and accurately diagnoses eye diseases and pneumonia

February 22, 2018
Using artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, researchers at Shiley Eye Institute at UC San Diego Health and University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in China, Germany and Texas, ...

Gut microbes protect against sepsis—mouse study

February 22, 2018
Sepsis occurs when the body's response to the spread of bacteria or toxins to the bloodstream damages tissues and organs. The fight against sepsis could get a helping hand from a surprising source: gut bacteria. Researchers ...

Fertility breakthrough: New research could extend egg health with age

February 22, 2018
Women have been told for years that if they don't have children before their mid-30s, they may not be able to. But a new study from Princeton University's Coleen Murphy has identified a drug that extends egg viability in ...

Breakthrough could lead to better drugs to tackle diabetes and obesity

February 22, 2018
Breakthrough research at Monash University has shown how different areas of major diabetes and obesity drug targets can be 'activated', guiding future drug development and better treatment of diseases.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.