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Mucosal immune system of the gastrointestinal tract: maintaining balance between the good and the bad

Journal article
Authors Bani Ahluwalia
Maria K Magnusson
Lena Öhman
Published in Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology
Volume 52
Issue 11
Pages 1185-1193
ISSN 0036-5521
Publication year 2017
Published at Institute of Biomedicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology
Institute of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine and Clinical Nutrition
Pages 1185-1193
Language en
Keywords Epithelial barrier, GALT, gut microbiota, immune homeostasis, lamina propria, mucosal immunity, mucosal tolerance
Subject categories Gastroenterology and Hepatology


The gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) is a unique organ inhabited by a range of commensal microbes, while also being exposed to an overwhelming load of antigens in the form of dietary antigens on a daily basis. The GI tract has dual roles in the body, in that it performs digestion and uptake of nutrients while also carrying out the complex and important task of maintaining immune homeostasis, i.e., keeping the balance between the good and the bad. It is equally important that we protect ourselves from reacting against the good, meaning that we stay tolerant to harmless food, commensal bacteria and self-antigens, as well as react with force against the bad, meaning induction of immune responses against harmful microorganisms. This complex task is achieved through the presence of a highly efficient mucosal barrier and a specialized multifaceted immune system, made up of a large population of scattered immune cells and organized lymphoid tissues termed the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). This review provides an overview of the primary components of the human mucosal immune system and how the immune responses in the GI tract are coordinated and induced. © 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

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