BY BRANDON DESOUSA
Researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center have identified a class of bacteria in the gut, called Clostridia, through studies with mice. The role that Clostridia plays in the gut is that it reduces allergen exposure and sensitization. While the fundamental mechanisms behind allergies are relatively unknown, scientists believe that the identification of this bacteria might be a step in the direction of better understanding and treating food allergies.
Scientists believe that it is our evolving lifestyles that have led to coevolution amongst the microbiota that help sustain us. Senior author, Cathryn Nagler, PhD, blames modern practices such as caesarean births and formula feeding as the reasons for why food allergies may be present in some individuals. Modern practices lead to food allergies due to deviation from natural development. This is because most of the microbiota responsible for food allergies is obtained naturally through processes like childbirth and breast feeding. The team that is currently researching on the identification of Clostridia has also discovered that it induces an immune response that prevents allergens from entering the bloodstream. To ensure that it was actually the Clostridia that was responsible for providing protection from allergens, Nagler and her team studied lab mice. The team studied responses resulting from exposure to food allergens of mice, some germ-free and some treated with antibiotics. When compared to Clostridia-carrying mice, the Clostridia-free mice possessed a greater presence of antibodies as a result of a stronger immunological response.
Following identification of Clostridia as the bacteria for allergen protection, researchers sought to explore the mechanism behind the protection. Through genetic analysis, Nagler and her team discovered that Clostridia induced the production of interleukin-22 (IL-22) by innate immune cells. IL-22 is responsible for decreasing the permeability of the intestinal lining. By doing so, the Clostridia is ultimately preventing allergens from entering the bloodstream.
Understanding the biological impact that Clostridia has on digestion provides scientists with information that can potentially spark a medical breakthrough. Potential therapeutic options may begin to open as we continue to learn more. This can range from treatments to preventative measures. Considering the widespread impact of food allergies, it is imperative to research different treatments and alternatives in controlling or even eliminating the allergen. Clostridia can be a new breakthrough in accomplishing this goal.