Researchers discover that vitamin B metabolites stimulate T cells

29 November 2012

Australian researchers have discovered that vitamin B metabolites produced by Salmonella bacteria can activate the immune system, a finding that could lead to new treatments for gut and lung diseases.

Dr Ligong Liu and Professor David Fairlie from The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) joined a team led by Professor James McCluskey from the University of Melbourne and Professor Jamie Rossjohn from Monash University to study howSalmonella, a bacterium that causes food poisoning, activates certain immune cells.

“Mucosal T cells (MAIT cells) are especially important in the gastrointestinal tract and the lungs for protecting against bacterial infections,” Dr Liu said.

“Our role was to help the team identify what compounds, produced in Salmonella broths, were responsible for activating MAIT cells,” Professor David Fairlie, who led the chemistry studies at IMB, said.

“The team found that specific metabolites of Vitamin B, which are uniquely synthesised by certain bacteria, act as red flags that activate MAIT cells.”

“This is the first time that small organic compounds have been found to activate such immune cells and may lead to a new understanding of immune defence.”

The research, published today in the print edition of Nature, was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC).

For more information, or to donate to Professor Fairlie’s lab, please call 07 3346 2132 or

The Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) is a research institute of The University of Queensland that aims to improve quality of life by advancing personalised medicine, drug discovery and biotechnology.


Fairlie Lab Graduates

Congratulations to Dr Ranee Singh and Dr Praveer Gupta for each being awarded their Doctorate of Philosophy. Also congratulations to Mr Kok Wei Wong, Ms Sing Yu Ngooi and Mr Tom Fairlie for their awards of First Class Honours.

New Fairlie Group C3aR, C5aR and obesity paper out in press

C5aR and C3aR antagonists each inhibit diet-induced obesity, metabolic dysfunction, and adipocyte and macrophage signaling.

Lim J, Iyer A, Suen JY, Seow V, Reid RC, Brown L, Fairlie DP.

FASEB J. 2012 Nov 1. [Epub ahead of print]

PMID: 23118029

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