Gut Immune Function

In addition to roles in digestion and absorption, the gut plays significant immune roles. The distal small bowel and colon host many bacteria and their endotoxins, and it is important that these organisms not gain access to the internal systems of the body. This function is known globally as the gut barrier function and can be divided into several components.6 Normal flora of the gut comprise one component. The normal flora, particularly some anaerobes, help to prevent overgrowth of potential pathogens. A second component of the gut barrier involves mechanical factors. These include an epithelial mucus gel layer that prevents adherence of bacteria and peristalsis of the small bowel that prevents stasis of bacteria. Gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), prominent in the small bowel, serves as a local immune system. Secretory immunoglobulin A produced at the mucosal surface prevents bacteria from invading the surface. Bile salts and the reticuloendothelial system of the liver are believed to bind bacterial endotoxin and help clear it from the blood should it be absorbed into the portal circulation.

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