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Key feature of immune system survived in humans, other primates for 60 million years
Date:8/18/2009

art of what used to be thought of as "junk DNA" and makes up more than 90 percent of the human genome. That genetic material, however, is now understood to often play important roles in regulating and "turning on" the expression of other genes.

In this case, the genetic element is believed to play a major role in the proper function of the "innate" immune system in primates an ancient, first line of defense against bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, in which the body recognizes something that probably doesn't belong there, even though the specific pathogen may never have been encountered before.

"Many people are familiar with the role of our adaptive immune system, which is what happens when we mount a defense against a new invader and then retain antibodies and immunity in the future," Gombart said. "That's what makes a vaccine work. But also very important is the innate immune system, the almost immediate reaction your body has, for instance, when you get a cut or a skin infection."

In primates, this action of "turning on" an optimal response to microbial attack only works properly in the presence of adequate vitamin D, which is actually a type of hormone that circulates in the blood and signals to cells through a receptor. Vitamin D is produced in large amounts as a result of sun exposure, and is available in much smaller amounts from dietary sources.

Vitamin D prevents the "adaptive" immune response from over-reacting and reduces inflammation, and appears to suppress the immune response. However, the function of the new genetic element this research explored allows vitamin D to boost the innate immune response by turning on an antimicrobial protein. The overall effect may help to prevent the immune system from overreacting.

"It's essential that we have both an innate immune response that provides an immediate and front line of defense, but we also have protection against an overreaction by the immune system, whi
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Contact: Adrian Gombart
adrian.gombart@oregonstate.edu
541-737-8018
Oregon State University
Source:Eurekalert

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