New York: For some people, a bout of intestinal distress like traveler’s diarrhea leads to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Recent discoveries have given researchers a better idea of how this happens, and potential leads for new treatments. Scientists aren’t sure exactly how this happens, but some think an infection may contribute to IBS by damaging the gut nervous system.
The study, published in the journal Cell, takes a close look at why neurons in the gut die and how the immune system normally protects them. The research from Rockefeller University on mice offers insight into IBS, a chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract and could point to potential new treatment approaches.
According to the researchers, in a healthy gut, the immune system must strike a careful balance between responding to threats and keeping that response in check to avoid damage. “Inflammation helps the gut ward off an infection, but too much of it can cause lasting harm,” said study researcher Daniel Mucida, Associate Professor at Rockefeller University in the US.
To understand the effects of an infection on the nervous system, the research team gave mice a weakened form of Salmonella, a bacterium that causes food poisoning, and analysed neurons within the intestine.
They found that infection induced a long-lasting reduction of neurons, an effect they attributed to the fact these cells express two genes, Nlrp6 and Caspase 11, which can contribute to a specific type of inflammatory response. This response, in turn, can ultimately prompt the cells to undergo a form of programmed cell death.