Intestinal Bacteria Found to Protect Lungs from Infection
Graduate student Iris Pang (Immunobiology), working with former postdoctoral fellow Takeshi Ichinohe in Professor Akiko Iwasaki’s lab, has shown that helpful or, at worst, harmless “commensal” bacteria in the intestines actually play an important role in fighting flu infection in the lungs.
Her recent publication about this ground-breaking research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has attracted much attention in the scientific world and led to the publication of articles in American Scientist , Nature, and Scientific American.
Iris’ study is the first to demonstrate that commensal bacteria provide a signal to the body that prepares other organs, in this case the lungs, to mount an immune response against viruses. Antibiotics, which suppress bacteria in the gut, seem to impair the body’s ability to send those signals. The specific mechanism by which the microbes help mount an immune response is still unclear, but Iris and her colleagues suspect it might involve cytokines, cell-signaling protein molecules known to activate immune cells.