High-profile review published in leading journal

The group of Prof Mahesh Desai from the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) has published a review in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology. The high-profile review sheds more light on the question of how the gut microbiome interacts with our intestinal mucosal barrier, which is the first line of innate defence that protects us from invading microbes.

The review is published in the June issue of the acclaimed journal Nature Reviews Microbiology. The work of the “Eco-Immunology and Microbiome” research group, led by Prof Mahesh Desai, is supported by funding instruments from the FNR, including a CORE grant and an AFR bilateral grant with the RIKEN Institute in Japan.

Outcome of crucial collaboration

The pathogenic and beneficial bacteria in our gut employ numerous molecular mechanisms to either traverse or disrupt the intestinal mucosal barrier in order to cause infectious or chronic diseases. The review assembles comprehensive literature on microbiome, immunology, gastroenterology and intestinal pathogenesis, and focuses on various types of microbes, including bacteria and protozoans, which secrete enzymes, anti-microbial peptides or metabolites that drive intestinal homeostasis.

“Our review highlights the immense complexity of functional interactions taking place at the intestinal mucosal barrier in health and disease. The work is an outcome of a crucial collaboration with Prof Eric Martens from the University of Michigan Medical School in the United States, who is one of the lead contributors of the article.” – Prof Mahesh Desai

Prof Desai’s research group – “Eco-Immunology and Microbiome” – is specialised in investigating the human gut microbiome and its interaction with the host. The intestinal mucosal barrier is the primary site of such interaction with the commensal and pathogenic microbes and is composed of different types of epithelial cells that are covered by a layer of host-secreted mucus. The functions of the mucus layer are to lubricate the intestine and to serve as physical and chemical barriers, in the latter case, by acting as a reservoir of anti-microbial molecules.

Further work is required to grasp the interplay between the commensal and pathogenic gut microbiome with the mucosal barrier’, says Mareike Neumann, one of the lead authors and contributors of the review and a PhD candidate in the group of Prof Desai.

Pathogenic and commensal bacteria can interact specifically with individual host cells namely enterocytes, M cells, tuft cells, Paneth cells, goblet cells and enteroendocrine cells. The authors provide specific examples of pathogens such as Salmonella enterica, which is able to pass through M cells, and Vibrio cholerae that can degrade the mucus and disrupt tight junctions between enterocytes. The review further illustrates how defects in mucus production or glycosylation can lead to an impaired intestinal barrier, which contributes to the development of chronic diseases, such as colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.

I am delighted that such a high-impact review was published as a part of our AFR bilateral project’, states Prof Markus Ollert, who is one of the coordinators of the AFR grant.

The Eco-Immunology and Microbiome group (left to right): Stephanie Willieme, Mareike Neumann, Mahesh Desai, Mathis Wolter, Andrzej Mizera, Amy Parrish

More information

Link to publication: Interactions of commensal and pathogenic microorganisms with the intestinal mucosal barrier – or download complete PDF

More about Mahesh Desai

In 2017, Prof Dr Desai won an FNR Award in the category Outstanding Scientific Publications for the publication “A dietary fiber-deprived gut microbiota degrades the colonic mucus barrier and enhances pathogen susceptibility”, published in the prestigous journal “Cell”.

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