uOttawa research highlights importance of dietary nutrient choline for healthy immune system

Photo of salmon, spinach, beets and wheat.

New paper from the Fullerton lab and colleagues links the metabolism of the common nutrient to the function of important immune cells, possibly to fend off disease.

The work of Dr. Morgan Fullerton and his team of researchers at the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine calls to light the importance of one’s diet in staying healthy.

Now, the latest work from first authors and science students Shayne Snider and Kaitlyn Margison as well as the research groups of Dr. Steffany Bennett and Dr. Morgan Fullerton has identified a new way in which metabolism and immunity are interconnected – via the essential nutrient choline.

An assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology (BMI), Dr. Fullerton received a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant to pursue this avenue of research and is also supported by an Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation. Fullerton and team have made great strides in investigating the relationship between metabolism and immunity, trying to reveal as much as possible about the mechanisms of chronic disease.

Their recent paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry underlines the importance of the nutrient choline in the function of a specific type of immune cell called a macrophage, particularly for cell membranes and in cell signalling. When these cells sense a foreign invader, choline metabolism is activated. On the flip side, limiting how much choline is available can make these cells more pro-inflammatory, the paper reveals. This cellular phenomenon, left unchecked, is linked to disease including, potentially, the inflammatory conditions of obesity, heart disease and even cancer.

Choline is a nutrient found in a variety of everyday foods like meat, fish, dairy, pasta, rice, eggs, spinach, beets and wheat.

“From our results we can draw that when macrophage cells jump into action, they need choline,” says Dr. Fullerton. “Knowing that choline metabolism affects inflammation (and vice versa), future work will look at inflammatory conditions such as obesity and infection, where macrophage choline metabolism may be important.”

The authors’ affiliations span uOttawa’s Centre for Infection, Immunity, and Inflammation (CI3), Brain and Mind Research Institute, Centre for Catalysis Research and Innovation, Ottawa Institute of Systems Biology, and BMI.

Main photo: Choline is a nutrient found in a variety of everyday foods like meat, fish, dairy, pasta, rice, eggs, spinach, beets and wheat.

A photo of some of the paper’s authors.

Some of the paper’s authors (l-r): Julia Nunes, Hongbin Xu, Peyman Ghorbani, Conor O’Dwyer, Nicholas LeBlond, Steffany Bennett, Thao Nguyen, Morgan Fullerton, Kaitlyn Margison.

Photo credit : Joanne Steventon

Back to top