Key to Growth of Bad Bacteria in Inflammatory Bowel Disease

The researchers discovered a by which harmful bacteria grow, edge out and damage the gut in IBD. This new understanding, published in the Feb. 8 issue of Science, may help researchers develop new treatments for IBD with fewer side effects than current therapies.

IBD begins when “good” bacteria are mistakenly killed by the immune system, while harmful bacteria multiply—resulting in inflammation and damage to the , and chronic episodes of , cramping, diarrhea and other changes in bowel habits. It’s estimated that IBD, which includes and Crohn’s disease, affects 1.4 million people in the U.S., according to the . In test-tube and animal studies, the researchers found that potentially harmful bacteria in the intestine called Enterobacteriaceae use nitrate—a byproduct formed during the in IBD—to grow and thrive. Enterobacteriaceae strains include certain E. coli bacteria, which can worsen the intestinal damage of IBD.

Eventually, the intestines of those with IBD become overrun by harmful bacteria, and the numbers of normal in the gut decrease. “Much like humans use oxygen, E. coli can use nitrate as a replacement for oxygen to respire, produce energy and grow,” said lead author Andreas Baumler, a professor of at .

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