Immune privilege is a complex process that protects organs from immune-mediated attack and damage. It is accomplished by a series of cellular barriers that both control immune cell entry and promote the development of tolerogenic immune cells. In this Review, we describe the vascular endothelial and epithelial barriers in organs that are commonly considered to be immune privileged, such as the brain and the eye. We compare these classical barriers with barriers in the intestine, which share features with barriers of immune-privileged organs, such as the capacity to induce tolerance and to protect from external insults. We suggest that when intestinal barriers break down, disruption of other barriers at distant sites can ensue, and this may underlie the development of various neurological, metabolic and intestinal disorders.
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