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Microbe–Host Messaging

Live imaging of cells in the body influenced by the gut microbiota

27 November 2021

Microbe–Host Messaging

The bacteria inside human guts are more than mere passengers. They're believed to influence a variety of aspects of human health including metabolism, immunity, and maybe even mental health. But how could bacteria in the stomach possibly exert effects in distantly located body tissues like the brain? While the bacteria themselves don't penetrate the wall of the gut, some researchers think the bugs communicate with body’s tissues and organs via small membrane-bound vesicles. These tiny capsules, released from the bacteria, contain cell components such as proteins and metabolites and have been suggested to travel through the host’s blood stream. Evidence supporting this theory has been garnered from work in mice whose cells were programmed to glow red if they received specific signals from genetically engineered gut bacteria. Sure enough cells all around the animals’ bodies were found to light up, including neurons in their brains (pictured).

Written by Ruth Williams

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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