August 1, 2014 -- (BRONX, NY) -- Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have found that bacteria that aid in digestion help keep the intestinal lining intact. The findings, reported online in the journal Immunity, could yield new therapies for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and a wide range of other disorders.
The research involved the intestinal microbiome, which contains some 100 trillion bacteria. The role of these microorganisms in promoting or preventing disease is a major emerging field of study. Einstein scientists found that absorption of a specific bacterial byproduct is crucial for maintaining the integrity of the intestinal epithelium--the single-cell layer responsible for keeping intestinal bacteria and their toxins inside the gut and away from the rest of the body. Breaching of the intact intestinal epithelium is associated with a number of diseases.
"Intestinal bacteria secrete a wide variety of chemicals known as metabolites," said Sridhar Mani, M.D., co-corresponding author of the paper. "These bacteria and their metabolites were known to influence the intestinal epithelium's integrity, but precisely how they did so wasn't known." Dr. Mani is professor of medicine and of genetics and the Miriam Mandel Faculty Scholar in Cancer Research at Einstein and attending physician, oncology at the Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care and Montefiore Medical Center.
Dr. Mani and his colleagues suspected that bacterial metabolites exert their influence by binding to and activating a protein in the nuclei of intestinal epithelial cells called the pregnane X receptor (PXR). PXR was known to be activated by chemicals within the body (such as bile acids) as well as by drugs including steroids and antibiotics.
In a series of mouse studies, the researchers found that a metabolite called indole 3-propionic acid (IPA)--produced exclusively by so-called commensal bacteria, which aid in digestion--both strengthens the intestinal epithelium's barrier function and prevents its inflammation by activating PXR. More specifically, PXR activation suppresses production of an inflammatory protein called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) while increasing levels of a protein that strengthens the junctions between adjacent intestinal epithelial cells.
"By adding probiotics in the form of IPA-producing bacteria to the intestine or by administering IPA directly, we may be able to prevent or treat IBD and other inflammatory disorders that occur when the intestinal epithelium has been compromised," said Dr. Mani. "Such a strategy could also be tried for other health problems that may occur when the intestinal epithelium breaks down, including certain forms of liver disease, diabetes, asthma, allergies, obesity and heart disease."
Dr. Mani's team is now developing novel probiotics aimed at restoring the intestinal epithelium's barrier function by encouraging IPA's interaction with PXR.
The paper, titled "Symbiotic Bacterial Metabolites Regulate Gastrointestinal Barrier Function via the Xenobiotic Sensor PXR and Toll-like Receptor 4," was published online in Immunity on July 24, 2014. Other Einstein authors are Madhukumar Venkatesh, Ph.D, Subhajit Mukherjee, M.S., Hongwei Wang, Ph.D., and Hao Li, Ph.D. Other co-authors included Katherine Sun, M.D., Ph.D., at Einstein and Montefiore, Matthew Redinbo, Ph.D., at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Robert Phillips, Ph.D., at University of Georgia, James Fleet, Ph.D., at Purdue University, Sandhya Kortagere, Ph.D., at Drexel University College of Medicine, Alessio Fasano, M.D., at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, Marc Dumas, Ph.D., Jessica Le Ven Ph.D., Pharm D, Jeremy Nicholson, Ph.D., all at Imperial College London, and Alaxandre Bénéchet, M.S, Zhijuan Qiu, M.S, Leigh Maher, M.S., and co-corresponding author Kamal Khanna, Ph.D., all at University of Connecticut Health Center.
The research was supported by National Institutes of Health grants CA127231, CA161879 and Damon Runyon Foundation Clinical Investigator Award (CI 1502) P30CA013330. The authors report no conflicts of interest.
About Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University
Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University is one of the nation's premier centers for research, medical education and clinical investigation. During the 2013-2014 academic year, Einstein is home to 743 M.D. students, 275 Ph.D. students, 103 students in the combined M.D./Ph.D. program, and 313 postdoctoral research fellows. The College of Medicine has more than 2,000 full-time faculty members located on the main campus and at its clinical affiliates. In 2013, Einstein received more than $150 million in awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This includes the funding of major research centers at Einstein in aging, intellectual development disorders, diabetes, cancer, clinical and translational research, liver disease, and AIDS. Other areas where the College of Medicine is concentrating its efforts include developmental brain research, neuroscience, cardiac disease, and initiatives to reduce and eliminate ethnic and racial health disparities. Its partnership with Montefiore Medical Center, the University Hospital and academic medical center for Einstein, advances clinical and translational research to accelerate the pace at which new discoveries become the treatments and therapies that benefit patients. Through its extensive affiliation network involving Montefiore, Jacobi Medical Center - Einstein's founding hospital, and three other hospital systems in the Bronx, Brooklyn and on Long Island, Einstein runs one of the largest residency and fellowship training programs in the medical and dental professions in the United States. For more information, please visit www.einstein.yu.edu, read our blog, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and view us on YouTube.