The research will be published in the May 2006 issue of the journal Immunity, released today.
"This connection between the group of cells and immune response will help in studying and developing treatments for diseases that affect the gastrointestinal system," said Stephen McSorley, Ph.D., professor of medicine and primary investigator on the project.
Researchers at the University developed a tracking system that allowed them to identify when T-cells are activated in response to a salmonella infection. T-cells are one type of white blood cell involved in the body's immune system that helps fight infection.
The researchers found a tiny population of cells in the intestine that signal the T- cells to fight infections. "Without these cells, the T-cells are blind, and the body's immune response in the intestinal system would not engage to fight the infection," McSorley said.
While the researchers used a mouse model to find this cell group, McSorley said in the future they will examine human tissue samples to try to identify a similar group in people.
He added this population of cells may be important in many responses in the gastrointestinal system, which may be helpful in studying diseases and conditions such as ulcerative colitis, and Crohn's disease.
The research was done in collaboration with scientists at Harvard University.