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IIDR Study: Food-Poisoning Bacteria May be Behind Crohn’s Disease


Image shows AIEC bacteria (green) growing inside epithelial cells (blue) lining the gut. Photo credit: Dr. Hong T. Law, McMaster University

People whose gut is colonized by a particular bacterium at the time of acute infectious gastroenteritis may be at an increased risk of developing Crohn’s disease later in life, according to a new study led by researchers at McMaster University.

Using a mouse model of Crohn’s disease, researchers discovered that acute infectious gastroenteritis caused by common food-poisoning bacteria accelerates the growth of adherent-invasive E. coli (AIEC) – a bacterium that has been linked to Crohn’s pathogenesis.

Even after the mice had cleared the food-poisoning bacteria, researchers still observed increased levels of AIEC in the gut, which led to worsened symptoms over a long period of time.

The study, published today in the journal PLOS Pathogens, was funded by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.

Crohn’s disease is a debilitating bowel disease characterized by the inflammation of the intestines. Today, one in every 150 Canadians is living with Crohn’s or colitis, a rate that ranks among the highest worldwide.

“This is a lifelong disease that often strikes people in their early years, leading to decades of suffering; an increased risk of colorectal cancer; and an increased risk of premature death, says Dr. Brian Coombes, senior author of the study and a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences and the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University.

“Compared to the general population, quality of life for those with Crohn’s disease is low across all dimensions of health.”

The study’s results, according to Dr. Coombes, provide the rationale for the development of novel diagnostic tools that could identify AIEC-colonized individuals who may be at greater risk for Crohn’s disease following an episode of acute infectious gastroenteritis.

“The need to understand the root origins of this disease – and to use this information to invigorate a new pipeline of treatments and preventions – has never been more pressing.”