Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in the UK have found that molecules in vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower help to maintain a healthy barrier in the lung and ease infection.
The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) is a protein found at barrier sites like the gut and the lung. Natural molecules in cruciferous vegetables are dietary ‘ligands’ for AHR, which means they activate AHR to target a number of genes. Some of the genes targeted switch off the AHR system, allowing it to self-regulate.
The researchers showed that when mice were infected with the flu virus, blood was found in the airspaces in the lungs, as it had leaked across the damaged barrier. In the experiments, AHR was able to prevent the barrier from becoming leaky: when AHR was overactivated they observed less blood in the lung spaces.
They also found that mice with enhanced AHR activity didn’t lose as much weight when infected with flu, and were able to better fight off a bacterial infection on top of the original virus.
When AHR was prevented from being expressed in the lung endothelial cells of infected mice there was greater damage to the barrier.
Jack Major, former PhD student in Andreas Wack’s laboratory and now visiting scientist at the Crick and first author, said: “What we’ve identified is a gut-lung axis – linking diet to protection against lung infection via endothelial cells. We looked at flu in this research, but other research has shown that Covid-19 may also reduce AHR activity in the lung. It will be interesting to investigate the impact of other respiratory viruses on AHR, and also whether different molecules in our diet use other pathways than AHR to affect lung function via endothelial cells.”
Edited by Diana Spencer, Senior Digital Content Editor, Drug Discovery World