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Blocking signals from a key molecular receptor that normally switches on the intestine’s immune response but instead becomes too intense in the presence of stress and toxins may help reverse necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a leading cause of death in premature newborns.
But Hackam’s group found that the stresses of oxygen deprivation and bombardment by bacterial toxins, conditions that can occur in premature infants with underdeveloped lungs, stimulate too much production of TLR4. Like an unstoppable alarm, the increased numbers of TLR4 blare out signals that eventually tip the cells into cellular suicide. They also stop enterocytes from migrating to close wounds in the intestines.