Most people do not develop inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in spite of the density of the commensal flora. In the past few years, several areas of gut mucosal immunology have emerged that will permit advances in the management of IBD at the bedside. The commensal flora is only beginning to be fully appreciated as another metabolic organ in the body. Innate immunity as it relates to the gut has complemented our understanding of the adaptive immune response. The most important susceptibility gene described for Crohn's disease, the NOD2 gene, participates in the innate immune response to pathogens. Patients carrying NOD2 mutations have an increased adaptive immune response to commensal organisms as measured by higher titers of antimicrobial antibodies, such as anti-CBir and anti-Saccharomyces cerevisiae antibodies. Toll-like receptors expressed by antigen-presenting cells (APCs) in the gut and intestinal epithelia] cells also play a role in recognition of intestinal flora. Within the APC category, dendritic cells link the innate and adaptive immune systems and shape the nature of the adaptive immune response to commensal bacteria. With respect to adaptive immunity, a new signaling pathway involving a distinct helper CD4 T-cell subset producing interleukin-17 may become a target for the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases. This review focuses on developments likely to culminate in advances in patient care.
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