Lysozymes, also known as muramidase, are the most important bactericidal proteins of the mucosal immunity. They are also referred to as the ‘body’s own antibiotic’, since it kills bacteria. Within the body, the mucosal surfaces such as digestive tract, eye conjunctiva, airways, ducts of exocrine glands etc. represent the largest area of exposure to potential pathogens. The mucosal immune system provides the first line of defense against these invading pathogens. So, the protective properties of the mucous membranes are dependent upon the action of various antimicrobial proteins including lysozymes.
Overview of antimicrobial proteins called lysozymes
Lysozymes, also known as muramidase, are the most important bactericidal proteins of the mucosal immunity. They are also referred to as the ‘body’s own antibiotic’, since it kills bacteria. Within the body, the mucosal surfaces such as digestive tract, eye conjunctiva, airways, ducts of exocrine glands etc. represent the largest area of exposure to potential pathogens. The mucosal immune system provides the first line of defense against these invading pathogens. So, the protective properties of the mucous membranes are dependent upon the action of various antimicrobial proteins including lysozyme. This magnificent protein was discovered in 1922 by Nobel laureate Sir Alexander Fleming, from the hen egg white.
Sources of production
Naturally, lysozymes are produced in our body by the secretory cells of the epithelia lining the respiratory mucosal surface, the middle ear and eustachian tube, which in turn inhibit the growth of otitis media pathogens. Owing to its wide distribution within the body, lysozymed are principally found in saliva, tears, mother’s milk, digestive system, and the reproductive organs; all are rich in nutrients for potential bacterial growth.
Impairment of mucosal immunity
The development of mucosal immunity is profoundly affected by exposure to infections and to a lesser extent by cigarette smoking, stress and humidity. The decrease in intestinal mucosal immunity with advancing age explains the increased susceptibility to infectious diseases. The degree and types of antigenic exposure determines the levels and patterns of mucosal antibodies. A positive correlation has been associated with smoking and certain inflammatory and malignant orogastrointestinal disorders. Smokers have been found to be mucosal immunodeficient. Mounting evidence has also indicated the negative role of stress on salivary lysozyme and immunoglobulin A levels. Last but not the least, low humidity during winter can dry out mucous membranes, reducing the protective effects of the mucous membrane and its arsenal of anti microbial proteins (AMPs).
Lysozymes: uses and supporting scientific evidence
Lysozymes protect us from ever presenting danger of bacterial infections by attacking the cell wall polysaccharides of different bacterial species ranging from bacilli, staphylococci, and streptococci, ultimately leading to their death. Apart from viruses and bacteria, lysozymes are also effective against fungi and its associated infections. Over decades, lysozymes have been supplied in the diet for many applications, particularly against viral and bacterial infections causing flu and cold, sore throat, fever blisters, etc. It is found to be effective in systemic or local inflammation as well and applied topically to heal lesions, wounds, etc. The presence of lysozymes in milk is one of the reasons why breast fed infants are immunized against localized or systemic inflammatory processes and gastrointestinal disturbances as opposed to their formula-fed counterparts.
Lysozymes: mode of action in the mucosa
There are several mechanisms by which lysozyme disrupts the bacterial activity and reduces the local inflammation.
- The antimicrobial proteins, lysozymes, compete directly with the pathogenic microorganisms for epithelial attachment sites in the gastrointestinal tract, thereby preventing the attachment and colonization of the gastrointestinal tract by way of adhesion and clearance of bacteria.
- Lysozymes bind to and destruct the cell walls of bacteria, triggering their autolysis and eventually cell death.
- Lysozymes also potentiate the activity of other immune factors such as IgA and AMPs in the mucous membrane to further restrict the entry and attachment of bacteria and viruses.
Need to supplement
Enzyme production relatively diminishes as we grow older. As a consequence, nutrients malabsorption, chronic ill-health conditions and tissue breakdown also increases to a much greater extent. It is therefore, advisable that one should include enzyme supplements in the diet in order to maintain the full nutritional value of food. Besides, the report of JEFCA-Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives has clearly designated the lysozymes obtained from edible animal tissue as class I enzyme, thus food. Lysozymes, these antimicrobial proteins, can be supplemented in various ways.
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