Bioactive molecules that can gain access to body tissues through the gastrointestinal tract may interact with immune regulatory circuits and effector functions. Among these are plant lectins, such as wheat germ (WG) agglutinin, which constitute common components of the human diet and target the immune system on a daily basis. Dietary bioactive molecules might be considered as immunomodulatory signals. To investigate the possible effects on the immune system of the long-term absence of such signals, two groups of rats were fed on a diet containing or deprived of WG. The WG-deprived diet induced a state of functional unresponsiveness in lymphocytes from primary and secondary lymphoid organs, as evaluated by in vitro stimulation with T cell mitogen phytohemoagglutinin (PHA) and B cell mitogen lypopolysaccarides (LPS). The unresponsive state of the immune cells could be reversed by injection of antigen emulsified in oil with inactivated mycobacteria (complete Freund's adjuvant, CFA) Dietary signals can thus interact with the immune system possibly influencing its shaping during ontogenesis.
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