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Expert: All diseases of civilization can be treated via the intestinal flora
A research team from several German universities examined the role of the intestinal fungus Candida albicans. As the latest findings show, the fungus plays a much larger role in our entire immune system than previously thought. According to the new study, the fungus protects us from infections or helps us to utilize nutrients. On the other hand, it also ensures that molds in the body are not recognized by the immune system. This can promote chronic lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis, COPD or asthma.
Researchers from the Cluster of Excellence Precision Medicine for Chronic Inflammatory Diseases have decoded a new mechanism for how the intestinal fungus Candida albicans affects the immune system. In addition to numerous positive aspects, the intestine should also open the door to mold spores. Because Candida ensures that the immune system lives in symbiosis with the fungus and is not attacked. However, no mold spores that are very similar in structure are therefore combated. The research results were recently presented in the renowned journal “Cell”.
Current research indicates that the intestinal flora (now more commonly referred to as a microbiome) is of central importance for our entire organism. The researchers in the Cluster of Excellence Precision Medicine for Chronic Inflammatory Diseases even believe that influencing the microbiome can treat most of the major diseases of civilization, including inflammatory bowel diseases, allergies, metabolic diseases, autoimmune diseases, cancer, and even mental illnesses such as depression. However, the interaction of the different organisms in the microbiome is extremely complex. The intestinal fungus Candida albicans plays a special role in this.
Colon fungi affect our immune system
"We have discovered a mechanism by which certain microbiota increase inflammatory reactions in the lungs," study leader Professor Petra Bacher reports in a press release. The harmless fungus Candida albicans, which colonizes the intestine, skin and mucous membranes, is responsible for this. As the researchers found, the intestinal fungus stimulates the immune system to form specific immune cells. These so-called Th17 cells enable a peaceful coexistence between the fungus and the immune system.
Candida opens the door to the body to mold
This mechanism is actually good for the body because the fungus has many positive functions and protects us, for example, against infectious diseases. However, the researchers also found that the Th17 cells ensure that some harmful fungi are also accepted by the immune system. This phenomenon is known in research as cross-reactivity. In this way, the mold Aspergillus fumigatus, for example, had an easier time settling in the body.
Chronic lung diseases are aggravated
"Mold spores are absorbed daily through the air we breathe, but they are harmless to healthy people," writes the research team. In people with chronic lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis, COPD or asthma, the mold can quickly settle in the lungs. Further research by the research team showed that people with chronic lung diseases actually had an increased number of cross-reactive Th17 cells in the lung tissue.
Candida: Good for the intestine - bad for the lungs?
"The protective Th17 reaction in the intestine seems to reinforce disease-causing immune processes in the lungs," adds lead author of the study Petra Bacher. For the first time, a research team was able to demonstrate how a single member of the microbiome shapes a specific immune response. The responsible cross-reactivity is also suspected in other participants of the intestinal flora. The researchers suspect that the microbiome manipulates the immune system in a variety of ways - both positively and negatively. With an increasing understanding of these processes, the possibility of developing targeted therapies against chronic diseases of civilization also increases. (vb)
Further information: Build intestinal flora: How it works!