Immune tolerance of food is mediated by layers of CD4+ T cell dysfunction

Published in Nature, researchers found that certain food proteins can cause white blood cells in the immune system, T-helper cells, to become dysfunctional.

The research focused on why the immune system does not attack food in the way that it attacks other foreign entities like microbes.

“This study helps explain why our immune systems do not attack our food even though it is foreign to our bodies,” said the senior author. “We found that ingested food proteins stimulate specific lymphocytes in a negative way. The cells become dysfunctional and eventually acquire the capacity to suppress other cells of the immune system.”

The gut associated-lymphoid tissue is a suppressive environment where lymphocytes that would normally generate inflammation undergo arrested development. This abortive response usually prevents dangerous immune reactions to food.

The research found that T-helper cells lack the inflammatory functions needed to cause gut pathology and yet the cells have the potential to produce regulatory T-cells that may suppress it. This means when people develop an intolerance or allergic reaction to certain foods, there may be a future capability to suppress that reaction by reintroducing dysfunctional lymphocytes.