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A Hidden Energy Source in Your Gut Can Help You Fight Infection, New Research Says

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A new research published today demonstrates that tissue-resident white blood cells use sugar as a source of energy to combat infection.

Researchers led by Marc Veldhoen, associate professor at Faculdade de Medicina de Lisboa (FMUL) and group leader at Portugal’s Instituto de Medicina Molecular Joo Lobo Antunes (iMM), have found that a subset of the immune system’s white blood cells known as tissue resident lymphocytes rely on sugar for energy. The findings were published today in the journal PNAS

These results, backed by the “la Caixa” Foundation, demonstrate the value of eating a balanced diet for a healthy immune response and demonstrate how the local availability of sugar in the gut during infections can be beneficial for the immune response and may have an impact on how quickly an infection is resolved by the host.

Although it is well known that lymphocytes travel through blood vessels in the body to serve as a surveillance system, there is a special class of lymphocytes that remain in tissues permanently.

Cells need to adapt to their surroundings in order to operate efficiently. In this study, the researchers discovered that a subset of intestinal wall-dwelling lymphocytes adjust their metabolism to this tissue.

Circulating lymphocytes spend the vast majority of their lifecycle in the lymph nodes, where abundant energy is present.

“It’s as if the lymph nodes are filled with lunch boxes,” says Mar Veldhoen, lead author of the study, adding, “these cells can be permanently filled with energy, and even grab a box to go when they leave the lymph nodes to circulate through the body.”

However, there is less energy available to the lymphocytes that live in the tissues.

These cells are always partially activated and prepared to respond to problems like infections. 

They “found that these resident lymphocytes are able to adapt to their environment in the gut, and regulate their activity depending on the availability of glucose,” adds Marc Veldhoen.

According to Vanessa Morais, group leader at iMM and participant in the study, These cells quickly absorb the glucose to form lactate or pyruvate, chemicals that are utilized to produce energy.

The resident lymphocytes in the stomach can make energy more quickly than the circulating lymphocytes.

Researchers used a mouse gut infection model to explore if hyperglycemia affects the immune response to infection.

“We found,” as explained by Špela Konjar, first author of the study, “that in mice infected with an intestinal pathogen, the local availability of glucose can determine the activation of the resident lymphocytes and to a faster clearance of infection.”

These findings demonstrate the environmental adaptation of resident lymphocytes, which in turn controls the immune response to infection.

The impact of the newly identified local glucose availability on gut immune cells suggests that diet can have an impact on these cells, emphasizing the significance of eating a balanced diet for the immune system.

Image Credit: Getty

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