Identifying gut signals that protect from neuroinflammation

Professor Gabrielle Belz

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, VIC

| Better treatments | Immunology | Project | 2020 | Investigator Led Research |


In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the insulating layer of nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord during episodes of inflammation. However, not all immune cells are involved in this destructive mechanism and there are types of immune cells that promote the protection of the brain and spinal cord. These protective cells are part of a complex network that originates in the gut. Indeed, these immune cells can act in the intestine itself, but most surprisingly they can travel around the body to distant sites such as the brain and spinal cord where they can dampen down the harmful impact of inflammation occurring in MS.

Professor Gabrielle Belz and her team have discovered that specific types of cells found in the intestine called M cells seem to be essential for producing these protective immune cells. In this project, through a combination of complex genetic and analytical methods, she is characterising M cells and investigating factors that influence how they work. She is also examining how they trigger the creation of protective immune cells.

Project Outcomes

Professor Belz and her team have made significant breakthroughs in their research. Their research has focused on the connections between certain types of intestinal cells and their influence on vital aspects of the immune system, especially in MS. Their findings shed light on the critical role of M cells, which act as regulators for specific blood cells called IgA plasma cells. These cells are responsible for producing IgA antibodies, a crucial component in shielding the brain and spinal cord from inflammatory attacks in MS.

Their investigations have unveiled the indispensable role of M cells in initiating the gut's IgA antibody response, crucial for warding off colonisation by certain bacteria. Interestingly, the team observed significant differences in the gut's bacterial composition in scenarios with and without functional M cells. These differences might hold the clues to understanding how MS evolves.

Furthermore, Professor Belz's team have developed novel laboratory models of MS, aiming to decipher the triggers behind both harmful and protective antibodies within these models.

Her progress has been shared at various national conferences and seminars, emphasising the link between gut immune responses and their impact on brain health. Looking ahead, Professor Belz is optimistic about unravelling the crucial mystery that connects gut-generated immune responses to their influence on brain function. These anticipated discoveries might pave the way for new therapeutic targets in MS treatment by modulating immune responses.

Updated: 31 March 2023

Updated: 21 January, 2020

Stages of the research process

Fundamental laboratory

Laboratory research that investigates scientific theories behind the possible causes, disease progression, ways to diagnose and better treat MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 10+ years

Research that builds on fundamental scientific research to develop new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics and advances it closer to the clinic.

Lab to clinic timeline: 5+ years
Clinical Studies
and Clinical Trials

Clinical research is the culmination of fundamental and translational research turning those research discoveries into treatments and interventions for people with MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 1-5 years

Grant Awarded

  • Project Grant

Total Funding

  • $213,524


  • 3 years

Funding Partner

  • MS Angels
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Identifying gut signals that protect from neuroinflammation