The enteric nervous system (ENS) is a network of neurons and glia that controls ongoing gastrointestinal (GI) functions. Damage or injury to the ENS can lead to functional GI disorders. Current data support the conclusion that many functional GI disorders are caused by an imbalance between gut microbes and the immune system, but how the ENS is involved in these interactions is less understood. Because of the proximity of the ENS to bacteria and other foreign antigens in the GI tract, it is important to prevent the passage of these antigens through the GI epithelium. If any foreign compounds manage to pass through the GI epithelium, an immune response is triggered to prevent injury to the ENS and underlying structures. However, careful modulation of the inflammatory response is required to allow for adequate elimination of foreign antigens while avoiding inappropriate overactivation of the immune system as in autoimmune disorders. Enteric neurons and glial cells are capable of performing these immunomodulatory functions to provide adequate protection to the ENS. We review recent studies examining the interactions between the ENS and the immune system, with specific focus on enteric glial cells and their ability to modulate inflammation in the ENS.
↵1 This article was invited as part of a series highlighting AJPGI-sponsored researchers at Experimental Biology 2016: San Diego, CA.
- Copyright © 2017 the American Physiological Society
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