Intestinal epithelial barrier and mucosal immunity
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The innate immune system plays a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of the intestine and protecting the host against a vast number of potential microbial pathogens from resident and transient gut microflora. Mucosal epithelial cells and Paneth cells produce a variety of antimicrobial peptides (defensins, cathelicidins, crytdinrelated sequence peptides, bactericidal/permeabilityincreasing protein, chemokine CCL20) and bacteriolytic enzymes (lysozyme, group IIA phospholipase A2) that protect mucosal surfaces and crypts containing intestinal stem cells against invading microbes. Many of the intestinal antimicrobial molecules have additional roles of attracting leukocytes, alarming the adaptive immune system or neutralizing proinflammatory bacterial molecules. Dysfunction of components of the innate immune system has recently been implicated in chronic inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, illustrating the pivotal role of innate immunity in maintaining the delicate balance between immune tolerance and immune response in the gut.