Natural colorectal cancer protection mechanism deciphered: How the immune system protects us from tumors

Natural colorectal cancer protection mechanism deciphered: How the immune system protects us from tumors

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Protection mechanism discovered: How the immune system protects against colon cancer

Again and again it is pointed out how important it is to strengthen your immune system. A healthy immune system can ward off pathogens and prevent diseases. It can protect against even the most serious diseases like colon cancer.

One of the most common causes of cancer death

According to health experts, colorectal cancer is one of the most common causes of cancer death in Germany. However, many diseases could be prevented if more people would go to regular checkups. Colonoscopy is particularly important if there have been cases of colon cancer in the family. In addition, the risk of colon cancer can be reduced by a healthy lifestyle. Apparently, the innate immune system is also important.

The immune system not only ensures the defense against pathogens

Researchers at Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin have discovered a protective mechanism with which the body protects its intestinal stem cells from degenerating into tumors.

According to a message from the clinic, the innate immune system plays a key role.

These findings make it clear that the immune system ensures the healthy functioning of the body far beyond the mere defense against pathogens.

The study was published in the specialist journal "Nature".

Changes in the genetic makeup of the cells

As it says in the communication, two worlds meet in the intestine: the body's own cells on the intestinal wall on the one hand and foreign material such as bacteria or food and their breakdown products on the other.

Both worlds - intrinsic and foreign to the body - are in direct contact and continuously exchange information.

This is important for the body: many of the environmental factors, such as certain strains of bacteria or essential nutrients, are useful or even essential for survival.

However, contact with the environment can also have negative consequences for the organism: some foreign substances cause changes in the genetic makeup of the cells that line the intestinal wall.

If such DNA damage accumulates, especially in the stem cells of the intestinal wall, it can develop into an intestinal tumor.

Prevent colorectal cancer from developing

To prevent the formation of tumors in the first place, a damaged cell can repair its DNA or - if the damage is too extensive - commit "altruistic suicide" (the so-called apoptosis).

So far, it has been assumed that the stem cell independently starts this repair mechanism.

But the study headed by Prof. Dr. Andreas Diefenbach, director of the Charité Institute for Microbiology and Infection Immunology, comes to a different conclusion:

The immune system can additionally strengthen the DNA repair mechanism in the damaged stem cell and thus prevent the development of colon cancer.

Recognize environmental factors that damage genes

Together with other research groups, the team led by Prof. Diefenbach was able to show in a mouse model that cells of the innate immune system are able to recognize environmental factors that damage genes, such as certain glucosinolates in the intestine.

Glucosinolates are components of plants that can be found in numerous types of cabbage, among other things. If the immune cells now perceive harmful glucosinolates, they send out the messenger substance interleukin 22.

This in turn means that the stem cells in the intestinal wall can detect any damage to their DNA earlier and repair it more quickly.

"So the immune system acts like a sensor for components of the food that damage genes," explains Prof. Diefenbach.

"If we switch this sensor off, we observe a significantly increased number of cases of colon cancer," said the BIH professor of precision medicine with a focus on microbiome research and head of the mucosal immunology working group at the German Rheumatism Research Center in Berlin.

Complex interaction should be examined in more detail

For Prof. Diefenbach, these findings not only show a previously unknown control loop with which the body protects itself from colon cancer. They also point out that the task of the immune system involves much more than the defense against pathogens.

"The immune system rather monitors the healthy growth and function of various organs in the body," says the immunologist.

In the future, he and his team would like to investigate the complex interaction between food components, intestinal bacteria, the intestinal wall and the immune system in more detail.

"This could explain the large number of inflammatory bowel diseases," added the scientist. (ad)

Author and source information

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