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Gut Bacteria: It can be Good, and Bad, for Health

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The human microbiome – the trillions of tiny bacteria that live in and on our bodies – is emerging as an increasingly important player in health and wellness. But, our co-existence with these organisms is complex, and scientists are learning that even minor changes in this relationship can lead to big problems with our health. 

In a new study published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that impairing a rare group of cells in the small intestine allows gut bacteria to invade the organ and cause major inflammation. The study was conducted in mice, but has implications for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a group of disorders characterized by chronic inflammation in the digestive track.

Keeping our guts happy and healthy

Keeping our guts in good shape requires the cooperation of multiple intestinal cells with the bacteria that live around them. Though small in number, intestinal cells called Paneth cells play an important role; they make antimicrobial compounds that keep bacteria in check and help form the lining of the small intestine, a physical barrier between the organ and the resident bacteria.   

Previous research shows that changes or mutations in Paneth cells are associated with increased inflammation, including in individuals with Crohn’s disease, a type of IBD. But, scientists were unsure how Paneth cells opened the door to inflammatory damage.   

Read more at University of Rochester Medical Center

Image: A new study found that impairing a rare group of cells (Paneth cells) in the small intestine allows gut bacteria to invade the organ and cause major inflammation. The study was conducted in mice, but has implications for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In the image, Paneth cells (red) secrete antimicrobial peptides (green) into their granules. (Credit: University of Rochester Medical Center)