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Healthy Microbiomes May Boost Activity of Killer Immune Cells

Oct 1, 2019 10:10:00 AM / by Stacy Matthews Branch, DVM, PhD

Microbiome , microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, microbes crawling , reproducing, multiplying , living on human head.3d rendering_AdobeStock_171314674-1Researchers at the University of Melbourne are studying how to boost the body’s immune system to help fight off certain cancers through a healthy microbiome.

The microbiome, the collective group or community of microorganisms that have a tight connection and relationship with the rest of our bodies, is essential for our healthy existence. The most studied microbiome is that of the intestines, and it is now known to play a crucial role in more than digestion. There is a critical balance between types of microbes (bacterial, fungi, viruses) that influences the body’s biochemistry, such as cholesterol levels, blood glucose, and even brain function.

A healthy microbiome is also important in the normal and effective functioning of the immune system. A person’s microbiota can have an impact on the development and function of immune cells. Scientists at the University of Melbourne have uncovered the power of the microbiome to enhance the ability of immune cells to respond to antigens. They set out to study how microbiota influence cytotoxic T cells, particularly T cell memory.

Using mice with and without a microbiome, the researchers compared the ability of cytotoxic T cells to survive long term and become memory cells. They transferred antigen-primed T cells into microbiome-deficient and normal mice and found that the T cells did not transition into long-surviving memory cells in the microbiome-free mice. The transition that did occur in the normal mice was mediated by microbe-produced metabolites important in oxidative metabolism. Specifically, butyrate (a short-chain fatty acid) produced by the microbiota is important for cellular metabolism and is needed for T-cell activation and memory.

The role of microbiota is so specific that the butyrate metabolite produced affected the tricarboxylic acid cycle in cytotoxic T cells leading to an alternative form of metabolism involving glutamine use and fatty acid catabolism. Therefore, the microbiota induced needed metabolic changes within T cells so that they can transition into memory T cells. These findings can impact the development of cancer therapeutic interventions involving the enhancement of T cell memory potential prior to the transfer of the cells into patients receiving adoptive T cell therapies.

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Reference: Lavars, N. (2019). How a healthy microbiome could supercharge the body's natural cancer-fighting Retrieved 8 August 2019, from

Topics: Cytotoxic T Cells, T Cells

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