Posted on Mar 20, 2013, 6 a.m.
Australian team reveals genetic basis underlying the importance of consuming green leafy vegetables.
Eating your greens may be even more important that previously thought, with the discovery that an immune cell population essential for intestinal health could be controlled by leafy greens in your diet. Specific immune cells, the innate lymphoid cells (ILCs), are found in the lining of the digestive system and protect the body from ‘bad’ bacteria in the intestine; evidence suggests that ILCs also play an important role in controlling food allergies, inflammatory diseases and obesity, and may even prevent the development of bowel cancers. Gabrielle Belz, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (Australia), and colleagues have discovered the gene T-bet is essential for producing a population of these critical immune cells and that the gene responds to signals in the food we eat. Revealing that T-bet is the key gene that instructs precursor cells to develop into ILCs, which it does in response to signals in the food we eat and to bacteria in the gut, the team submits that the proteins in green leafy (cruciferous) vegetables are known to interact with a cell surface receptor that switches on T-bet, and might play a role in producing ILCs. Writing that: “Understanding the biology of ILCs and the genes that are essential for generating them will help us to develop methods of targeting these cells,” the lead investigator posits that: “This might include boosting ILCs in situations where they may not be active enough, such as infections or some cancers, or depleting them in situations where they are overactive, such as chronic inflammatory disease.”
Rankin LC, Groom JR, Chopin M, Herold MJ, Walker JA, Mielke LA, McKenzie AN, Carotta S, Nutt SL, Belz GT. “The transcription factor T-bet is essential for the development of NKp46<sup>+</sup> innate lymphocytes via the Notch pathway.” Nat Immunol. 2013 Mar 3.