Why eating your greens is good for you

13 October 2011

Scientists at the National Institute for Medical Research (now part of the Francis Crick Institute) have found a link that vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage contain nutrients which play an important role in maintaining healthy skin and a healthy gut. The nutrients in cruciferous vegetables - such as broccoli - help to ensure a good balance of bacteria in the skin and intestine (known as epithelial barriers). The findings have been published in Cell.

Epithelial barriers are home to controlled numbers and types of microorganisms. In the intestine many of these help with digestion and provide essential metabolic compounds. Disturbances to this delicate equilibrium can give rise to disease such as inflammatory bowel disease.  Although many microorganisms are beneficial, the body needs protection against attack from microorganisms that cause disease.  

Underneath the epithelial barrier there is a network of immune cells, predominantly consisting of specialised intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs). These are important as a first line of defence but they also help to organise and regulate the bacteria in the epithelial barrier and help to repair wounds in the skin or gut. These immune cells populate these sites before birth in preparation for subsequent colonisation with microorganisms.

Intestinal and skin gd T cells depend on AhR for survival

Intestinal and skin gd T cells depend on AhR for survival. (Click to view larger image)
© Marc Veldhoen

 

Marc Veldhoen, working in Gitta Stockinger's lab in NIMR's Division of Molecular Immunology, has shown that compounds in cruciferous vegetables are important in maintaining the numbers of immune cells protecting the intestine and skin. The compound - known as aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) - was regulated by nutrients found in the vegetables. Gitta Stockinger said: "This research provides a direct molecular link between eating greens as part of a balanced diet and the health of a person's skin and gut. It demonstrates why eating your greens is good for you."

Marc Veldhoen moved to the Babraham Institute in 2010, but most of the work described was carried out at NIMR. This year he has been awarded an ERC Starting Independent Researcher Grant from the European Research Council to continue this research at Babraham.

Original article: Exogenous stimuli maintain intraepithelial lymphocytes via aryl hydrocarbon receptor activation.

Ying Li, Silvia Innocentin, David R. Withers, Natalie A. Roberts, Alec R. Gallagher, Elena F. Grigorieva, Christoph Wilhelm and Marc Veldhoen (2011).

Cell, Epub ahead of print.  Publisher abstract.

 

  • Exogenous stimuli maintain intraepithelial lymphocytes via aryl hydrocarbon receptor activation. Ying Li, Silvia Innocentin, David R. Withers, Natalie A. Roberts, Alec R. Gallagher, Elena F. Grigorieva, Christoph Wilhelm and Marc Veldhoen (2011)
  • The National Institute for Medical Research is one of the founding institutes of The Francis Crick Institute
  • The Crick will initially build on the complementary skills and research interests of the MRC National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute (LRI), and the universities.