Vitamin A rallies cells to fight infection

Retinoic acid, a metabolite derived from vitamin A, calls immune cells to the intestine, where they can fight infection, according to new research.

Vitamin A provides a sort of cellular homing beacon that rallies immune cells from all over the body to the intestines, where they can fight infection, according to new research from Purdue University.

The revelation about retinoic acid, a metabolite that results from the breakdown of vitamin A, may provide a key to how the immune system functions, which could help researchers develop treatments for infection, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, the study’s author, Chang Kim, a microbiologist and immunologist in Purdue's College of Veterinary Medicine said in a university release.

"It is known that vitamin A deficiencies lead to increased susceptibility to disease and low concentrations of immune cells in the mucosal barrier that lines the intestines," said Kim. "We wanted to find the specific role the vitamin plays in the immune system and how it influences the cells and biological processes. The more we understand the details of how the immune system works, the better we will be able to design treatments for infection, and autoimmune and inflammatory diseases."

The research was published in the journal Immunology and noted on

"We all know that what we eat significantly affects our overall health and immunity," Chang said. "While there are other important regulators of immune system function, the role vitamins play is significant. How this works on a molecular level is a growing field of study."

Last year, research suggested that retinoic acid may help turn pre-cancerous cells back into normal healthy breast cancer cells. That work appeared in the International Journal of Oncology.

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