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The immune system in the intestine maintains a careful balance, tolerating our long-term resident (commensal) gut bacteria while defending against invading pathogens. Under certain circumstances, dysregulation of our intestinal immune response to commensal and pathogenic microbes can drive inflammatory disease.

Regulatory T (Treg) cells are a subpopulation of white blood cells which control how the immune system responds differently to pathogens and to commensal bacteria.

In a recently published Nature paper, Gu et al., used an experimental model of inflammatory bowel disease to uncover new mechanisms by which Tregs gain and maintain tolerance to gut bacteria.

Although Tregs are critical for suppressing excessive inappropriate immune responses and therefore preventing autoimmune responses, they can dampen anti-tumour responses, thereby promoting cancer progression.

The insights from this study allow us to better understand how our gut bacteria and Tregs live in harmony, knowledge that we hope can be harnessed to design better cancer therapies. 

Read more on the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology website