Gastrointestinal immunology case study

Friendly fire: why does our immune system attack commensal cells in inflammatory disease?

The problem

Our immune system does a great job at fighting infection from foreign organisms. It does this whilst simultaneously avoiding friendly, commensal microbes. However, in some inflammatory diseases, it appears that the immune system is unable to avoid attacking the commensal microbes. This is particularly true at mucosal sites.

Our work

Our research aims to understand how immune responses are regulated at mucosal sites, with a focus on the intestine and lung.

Using a combination of animal models and clinical samples (via collaborations with Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and Salford Royal Foundation NHS Trust), and collaborations with GlaxoSmithKline and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, we are investigating the following topics:

  • how the immune system is regulated to promote tolerance in the intestine, and how pathways are disrupted in inflammatory bowel disease;
  • mechanisms by which the mucosal barrier communicates with immune cells to regulate responses;
  • factors that are important in regulation of acute bacterial infection at mucosal sites;
  • pathways that control immunological memory responses to mucosal infection.

Our ability to combine cutting-edge animal work with access to human clinical samples (from both healthy people and individuals with defined inflammatory disorders) provides the perfect platform to determine new mechanisms of immune regulation at barrier sites, and potential novel targets for therapy in inflammatory disease.

Principal investigator

Dr Mark Travis