Possible Crohn’s disease ‘trigger’ discovered, may lead to new treatment

HAMILTON, Ontario — Crohn’s disease typically leaves patients dealing with intense stomach pain, weight loss, and diarrhea. It’s especially hard for sufferers to cope with because it is a chronic condition with no known cure. That may soon change, though, according to researchers at McMaster University. A Canadian team has discovered a specific strain of bacteria they believe may trigger Crohn’s.

This bacteria, adherent-invasive E-coli (AIEC), is frequently found within the intestines of Crohn’s patients.

“If you examine the gut lining of patients with Crohn’s disease, you will find that around 70 to 80 percent of them test positive for AIEC bacteria, but one of the things we don’t understand is why,” says Brian Coombes, professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, and the Canada Research Chair in Infectious Disease Pathogenesis, in a university release.

“We believe that AIEC is a potential trigger of Crohn’s disease,” he adds.

Closer to a cure for Crohn’s?

Next, researchers carried their work over to mice. The team infected a group of lab mice with various mutated AIEC genes. This allowed them to identify which genes facilitated the bacterial colonization of Crohn’s patients’ intestines.

AIEC bacteria typically lives and propagates within a biofilm that coats the cells of the intestinal wall. Unfortunately, that biofilm protects the bacteria from both the immune system and antibiotics. During their experiments, study authors discovered the specific AIEC protein structure that allows it to grow within those biofilms. The revelation opens up the possibility of new treatment options.

Thus far, most Crohn’s treatments only focus on reducing inflammation and fail to address the actual cause of the disease.

“New therapies are on the way – we are one step closer to figuring out how this Crohn’s disease-associated bacteria lives in the gut and when we do that, we can develop new treatments,” Coombes concludes.

The study appears in the journal Nature Communications.