Following birth, mammals are colonized by a dense and diverse collection of microbes collectively termed the ‘microbiota’. Within the intestine, these microbes promote host health by facilitating absorption of otherwise indigestible food, providing resistance against enteric infections, and enhancing immune function. These helpful microbes share many characteristics with pathogenic organisms, and can incite harmful inflammatory responses in some instances. Yet, inflammatory responses against the microbiota are largely avoided by the neonate. How does the neonate establish peace with these microbial invaders? This process is key to health, yet the mechanisms that promote productive relationships between the newborn immune system and the resident microbiota are poorly understood.
The Koch Lab studies how maternal-neonatal interactions promote offspring health. By definition, mammals nurse their young following birth. In addition to providing sustenance, milk contains an array of other factors that can help forge peaceful relationships between the immune system and the resident intestinal microbiota. We’ve shown that breast-milk derived antibodies limit mucosal immune responses and are critical for neonatal health. We are pursuing these findings with the following projects:
Antibodies are multifunctional proteins that can participate in a number of different immune processes. We have developed tools to better understand the mechanisms by which maternal antibodies function in vivo.
Mice reared without maternal antibodies exhibit increased immune activation and impaired growth during a specific postnatal period. We are characterizing how these early-life alterations influence immune and metabolic health in adults.
Breast milk contains a variety of cytokines, hormones and growth factors that may significantly influence neonatal physiology. We are developing novel in vivo systems to explore the function of these substances.