Immune System Uses Vitamin B To Recognize Infection

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers from the University of Melbourne and Monash University in Australia recently studied how the body utilizes vitamin B to recognize bacterial infection, allowing the body´s specialized immune cells to defend against infection.

Medical experts have long touted vitamin B as an important element in healthy living. According to the American Cancer Society, vitamin B is necessary for growth and development. It can affect the activity of enzymes, which regulate chemical reactions in the body as well as change food into energy.

In particular, the study is the first of its kind to highlight how the highly abundant mucosal associated invariant T cells, otherwise known as MAIT cells, identify the vitamin B production from bacteria and yeast. The scientists believe that the immune receptor MR1 can capture some of the by-products of bacterial vitamin synthesis, allowing the MAIT cells to work effectively.

“Humans are unable to make vitamin B and obtain it mostly from diet. Because bacteria can synthesize vitamin B, our immune system uses this as a point of difference to recognize infection,” explained researcher Dr. Lars Kjer-Nielsen of the University of Melbourne in a prepared statement. “Given the relative abundance of the MAIT cells lining mucosal and other surfaces, such as the intestine, the mouth, lungs, it is quite probable that they play a protective role in many infections from thrush to tuberculosis.”

The team of investigators believes that the study´s findings pave the way for further research on immunity and infection.

“This is a significant discovery that unravels the long sought target of MAIT cells and their role in immunity to infection,” noted Kjer-Nielsen in the statement.

As well, the results of the study will help in the development of vaccines and other possible pharmaceuticals.

“This is a major breakthrough in which Australian researchers have beaten many strong research teams around the world, becoming the first to unlock the mystery of what drives a key component of our immune system,” commented James McCluskey, a professor of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne, in the statement.

Furthermore, the study has allowed the researchers to understand the relationship between the body´s immune system and gut bacteria.

“Some vitamin by-products appear to drive immunity while others dampen it,” explained Jamie Rossjohn, a professor at Monash University, in the statement.

The researchers plan to continue the project and hope to study how MAIT cells could also be related to intestinal or muscular disorders like inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome.

“This discovery now cracks open a new field in immunology and we can expect many research groups to focus their attention on this system,” continued Rossjohn in the statement.

The Australian Research Council along with the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia provided funding for the project.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.