In the Gut research line, the main area of interest is compromised intestinal integrity as a cause or consequence in a wide range of disorders. The gastrointestinal tract has a central role in human physiology, as it is the site of nutrient digestion and absorption. However, in order to optimally exert its digestive function, the intestine comprises a large surface area creating many potential entry points for microorganisms to invade the host. Consequently, the intestine is confronted with the challenging task of protecting the body’s internal milieu against an assault by potentially harmful microorganisms and their toxic products, which may otherwise result in local or systemic complications. To this end, the gut is equipped with a multi-layered defense system, which is comprised of:

  • a physical barrier formed by a single layer of intestinal epithelial cells, interconnected by tight junctions and covered with mucus;
  • the mucosal immune system of the gastrointestinal tract, including Paneth cells which produce antimicrobials, mucus-producing goblet cells, and lamina propria inflammatory cells;
  • commensal microbiota which provide their host with a barrier by competitive exclusion and produce short chain fatty acids (from undigested fibers), which exert beneficial effects on the host.

All these aspects of intestinal homeostasis are studied in several preclinical human and animal models in which disruption of intestinal integrity is central, such as intestinal ischemia-reperfusion, intestinal hypoperfusion, intestinal transplantation, food deprivation, parenteral nutrition and obesity. The aim is to unravel the crucial mechanisms involved in compromised intestinal function in a translational research setting and to identify new targets for treatment. In addition, novel assays to evaluate intestinal function and integrity are developed and validated.