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Study Reveals A New Role Of Intestinal Goblet Cells

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Study Reveals A New Role Of Intestinal Goblet Cells

A new study conducted by the scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis and published on the 15th of March in the journal Nature, reveals the particular cells that protect antigens and proteins ingested during meals, from a possible harmful activation of the immune system.

The new study, which was conducted on laboratory rats, reveals the function of the goblet cells found in the intestine. This discovery supports future studies on medication that would target the inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies and different other digestive conditions, all which are an unwanted effect caused by the response of the immune system.

Scientists say that they found that goblet cells work similar in both humans and rats. Their study reveals that the missing link between the antigens and the dendritic cells has been found. It’s already known that the dendritic cells are the ones that stop food antigens and proteins from being marked as “non-self” compounds. Doctor Rodney Newberry says that this new discovery could make goblet cells a new target for therapy.

Goblet Cell

Goblet Cell

To aid their research, Dr. Newberry’s team used a new imaging technique. This technique allowed them to observe the intestines of rats in real-time, thus leading to the uncovering of the role of goblet cells. This newly discovered role is to pass antigens from the intestine to the dendritic cells. Until now, it was believed that the only role of goblet cells was to secrete mucus.

“Everyone has concentrated only on the fact that goblet cells secrete mucus, but I think in the face of our findings, you could perhaps wonder whether the problem in inflammatory bowel disease might result in part from goblet cells not delivering antigens to the correct place, or maybe they’re not delivering antigens at all or too many antigens. We just don’t know yet. “, said Dr. Newberry.

The small intestine is the place where bacteria and different food compounds are found. The walls of the small intestine are protected by the secretion of the goblet cells, therefore blocking the pathogenic action of most bacteria that would normally be found there.

According to professor Mark Miller, one of the main authors of the paper, antigens travel the barrier created by the mucus. Dendritic cells are found on the other side of the mucus barrier. By using the “two-photon imaging” method, the research team was able to observe the transition of antigens from the lumen of the intestine to the dendritic cells. The role of these dendritic cells is to transmit the information about whether the antigens are harmless or not to the T-cells.

Professor Miller also notes that this new study reveals that a harmful response of the immune system can also be cause by goblet cells and their ability to transport antigens between the mucus barrier and dendritic cells. This study was made possible by the development of a new technique that allows the real-time observation of the intestinal immune cells.

“Sometimes, just by looking you realize there’s more to a system than you originally thought, and that leads you in new directions”, said professor Miller about the new imaging technique.

The two main authors, professors Miller and Newberry, found that because the goblet cells have similar actions in humans as they do in laboratory rats. They say that this discovery will allow further research on medication for intestinal problems caused by the immune system, through the targeting of goblet cells.

Only healthy test subjects were used in this study, but there are currently new experiments being conducted on test subjects that suffer from infections. Further test will include the studying of goblet cells found in other parts of the body, to determine if their newly discovered role occurs in other parts of the organism as well.