The mucosal immune system is the part of the immune system which provides protection to an animal’s various mucosal surfaces (e.g. respiratory tract mucosa, gastro-intestinal tract mucosa) from invasion or colonisation by pathogens. It provides three main functions (i) to protect the mucosa from infection; (ii) to prevent the uptake of pathogens which may subsequently infect other parts of the body; (iii) to regulate the immune response to non-harmful micro-organisms or innocuous foreign material present at the mucosal surface.
As the majority of infectious agents affect or initiate the infectious process at mucosal surfaces, mucosal immune responses play a crucial role in determining the outcome of infection. This is particularly true of pathogens such as gastro-intestinal nematodes or bacteria such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 which reside at the mucosal surfaces.
Due to the recognised importance of mucosal immunity, there is increasing interest in the development of vaccines which generate robust mucosal immunity. A major hurdle in developing such vaccines is that conventionally injected vaccines are generally poor inducers of mucosal immunity. Hence there is a pressing need for the development of novel vaccines which are capable of inducing strong mucosal immune responses.
Mucosal immunology research at Moredun is focused on two main areas: firstly, to study host-pathogen interactions at the mucosal surface in order to identify the mechanism(s) by which the host is able to combat pathogens; secondly, to develop vaccines which are capable of generating robust mucosal immune responses. This will hopefully lead to the development of improved methods of control for a number of important diseases of livestock.
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