Seeding the gut against disease? Researchers have discovered a link between certain bacteria in the gut and prevention of Crohn’s disease

A recent study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine has identified a bacterial enzyme called urease that plays a central role in the gut microbiome imbalance commonly associated with Crohn’s disease. A team of health experts at the Penn Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has carried out an analysis of fecal samples from Crohn’s disease patients as part of the study.

The research team has pooled data from the Pediatric Longitudinal Study of Elemental Diet and Stool Microbiota Composition (PLEASE) study and compared the information against 26 healthy children. The scientists have observed that fecal amino acids, which stem from bacterial nitrogen metabolism, are linked to the onset of Crohn’s disease, dysbiosis and increased proliferation of Proteobacteria in patients.

The scientists then monitored the nitrogen metabolism activity in animal models to identify potential disease treatments. The scientists found that injecting mice with urease-negative E. coli did not result in gut microbiome imbalance. In contrast, injecting the animals with urease-positive E. coli has led to a marked imbalance and even worsened colitis in mice. The research team has also observed that pre-treating both mice and human subjects with antibiotics and polyethylene glycol (PEG) may help new bacterial communities to better establish themselves.

“Because it’s a single enzyme that is involved in this process, it might be a targetable solution, The idea would be that we could ‘engineer’ the composition of the microbiota in some way that lacks this particular one.  The study is important is because it shows that the movement of nitrogen into bacteria is an important process in the development of dysbiosis. It also proves using a single enzyme can reconfigure the entire composition of the gut microbiota,” senior author Dr. Gary D. Wu tells Science Daily online.

“Now that we can effectively reduce bacterial load in humans it may now be possible to engineer the microbiota into a different configuration in a manner similar to what we have achieved in mice. Although we’re closer now, there is still more work to be done. The outcomes of this study and the analysis of collected biospecimens will be an important first step in building a technology platform to engineer a beneficial composition of the gut microbiota for the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases,” Dr. Wu adds.

Potential implications in Crohn’s disease treatment

An entry posted on the Crohns And Colitis website reveals that about 700,000 Americans currently suffer from Crohn’s disease. The article also shows both men and women are equally susceptible to the disease, which is commonly diagnosed between the ages 15 and 35. The entry also stresses that up to 20 percent of Crohn’s disease patients have a blood relative with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). (Related: Probiotic could treat Crohn’s, colitis and colon cancer.)

A fact sheet published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also indicates that Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites are at an increased risk of having IBD. The likelihood of contracting IBD is also significantly higher among people with lower education levels, who are poor and unemployed, and those living in suburban areas. The CDC also stresses that people born in the U.S. have increased odds of developing the disease than those born outside the country.

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite
  • Feeling of low energy

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