Open Access
Vet. Res.
Volume 37, Number 3, May-June 2006
Mucosal immunology in domestic animals
Page(s) 443 - 453
Published online 14 April 2006
How to cite this article Vet. Res. (2006) 443-453
Vet. Res. 37 (2006) 443-453
DOI: 10.1051/vetres:2006013

The postnatal development of the mucosal immune system and mucosal tolerance in domestic animals

Mick Bailey and Karin Haverson

School of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol, Langford House, Langford, Bristol BS40 5DU, United Kingdom

(Received 5 July 2005; accepted 16 December 2005; published online 14 April 2006)

Abstract - The mucosal immune system is exposed to a range of antigens associated with pathogens, to which it must mount active immune responses. However, it is also exposed to a large number of harmless antigens associated with food and with commensal microbial flora, to which expression of active, inflammatory immune responses to these antigens is undesirable. The mucosal immune system must contain machinery capable of evaluating the antigens to which it is exposed and mounting appropriate effector or regulatory responses. Since the immune system is likely to have evolved initially in mucosal tissues, the requirement to prevent damaging allergic responses must be at least as old as the adaptive immune system, and studies of the mechanisms should include a range of non-mammalian species. Despite the importance for rational design of vaccines and for control of allergic reactions, the mechanisms involved are still largely unclear. It is not clear that the classical experimental protocol of "oral tolerance" is, in fact, measuring a biologically important phenomenon, nor is it clear whether tolerance is regulated in the evolutionarily recent organised lymphoid tissue (the lymph nodes) or the more ancient, diffuse architecture in the intestine. The capacity of the immune system to discriminate between "dangerous" and "harmless" antigens appears to develop with age and exposure to microbial flora. Thus, the ability of an individual or a group of animals to correctly regulate mucosal immune responses will depend on age, genetics and on their microbial environment and history. Attempts to manipulate the mucosal immune system towards active immune responses by oral vaccines, or towards oral tolerance, are likely to be confounded by environmentally-induced variability between individuals and between groups of animals.

Key words: mucosal immune system / tolerance / oral tolerance / allergic response / immune development

Corresponding author: Mick Bailey

© INRA, EDP Sciences 2006