ILCs are essential for maintaining the delicate balance between tolerance, immunity and inflammation. Ms Rankin said the discovery had given the research team further insight into external factors responsible for ILC activation. "Until recently, it has been difficult to isolate or produce ILCs," Ms Rankin said. "So we are very excited about the prospect for future research on these cells which are still poorly understood."
ILCs produce a hormone called interleukin-22 (IL-22), which can protect the body from invading bacteria, Dr Belz said. "Our research shows that, without the gene T-bet, the body is more susceptible to bacterial infections that enter through the digestive system. This suggests that boosting ILCs in the gut may aid in the treatment of these bacterial infections," she said.
ILCs help to maintain a 'healthy' environment in the intestine by promoting good bacteria and healing small wounds and abrasions that are common in the tissues of the gut. They may also have a role in resolving cancerous lesions. "The discovery of these immune cells has thrown open a completely new way of looking at gut biology," Dr Belz said. "We are just starting to understand how important these immune cells are in regulating allergy and inflammation, and the implications for bowel cancer and other gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn's disease," she said.
"Understanding the biology of ILCs and the genes that are essential for generating them will help us to develop methods of targeting these cells," Dr Belz said. "This might include boosting ILCs in situations where they may not be active enough, such as infections or some cancers, or depleting them in situations where they are overactive, such as chronic inflammatory disease," she said.
|Contact: Liz Williams|
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute