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Ann Allergy. 1987 Nov;59(5 Pt 2):7-16.

Pathophysiology of intestinal uptake and absorption of antigens in food allergy.

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  • 1Combined Program in Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.


An important adaptation of the gastrointestinal tract to the extrauterine environment is its development of a mucosal barrier against the penetration of proteins and protein fragments. To combat the potential danger of invasion across the mucosal barrier, the infant must develop within the lumen and on the luminal mucosal surface an elaborate system of defense mechanisms that act to control and maintain the epithelium as an impermeable barrier to the uptake of macromolecular antigens. These defenses include a unique local immunologic system adapted to function in the complicated milieu of the intestine as well as other nonimmunologic processes such as a gastric barrier, intestinal surface secretions, peristaltic movement, etc, all of which help to provide maximum protection for the intestinal surface. Unfortunately, during the immediate postpartum period, especially for premature and "small-for-date" infants, this elaborate local defense system is incompletely developed. As a result of the delay in the maturation of the mucosal barrier, newborn infants are particularly vulnerable to pathologic penetration by harmful intraluminal substances. The consequences of altered defense are susceptibility to infection and the potential for hypersensitivity reactions and the formation of immune complexes. With these reactions comes the potential for developing life-threatening diseases such as necrotizing enterocolitis, sepsis, and hepatitis. Fortunately, nature has provided a means for passively protecting the "vulnerable" newborn against the dangers of a deficient intestinal defense system: human milk. It is now increasingly apparent that human milk contains not only antibodies and viable leukocytes, but many other substances that can interfere with bacterial colonization and prevent antigen penetration.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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