Crohn’s disease may develop from warped immune cell signaling during bile acid exposure

Study reveals how T cells in the small intestine respond to bile acids, offering localized treatment direction for a cause of chronic illness.

A study led by Mark Sundrud, PhD, center, suggests localized treatment of Crohn’s disease is possible. Sundrud’s collaborators include, from left to right, Matthew Pipkin, PhD; Douglas Kojetin, PhD; Laura Solt, PhD; graduate student Coutney Hegner, and research associate Amber Delmas Eliason. Not pictured is first author Mei Lan Chen, PhD.

JUPITER, FL—People with Crohn’s disease are typically treated with powerful anti-inflammatory medications that act throughout their body, not just in their digestive tract, creating the potential for unintended, and often serious, side effects. New research from the lab of our collaborator Mark Sundrud, PhD, at Scripps Research, Florida suggests a more targeted treatment approach is possible.

Crohn’s disease develops from chronic inflammation in the digestive tract, often the small intestine. More than half a million people in the United States live with the disease, which can be debilitating and require repetitive surgeries to remove irreversibly damaged intestinal tissue.

Writing in the journal Nature, Sundrud’s team finds that certain immune cells in the small intestine have evolved a molecular sensing mechanism to protect themselves from the toxic effects of high bile acid concentrations in the small intestine. This sensory mechanism can be manipulated with small drug-like molecules, they find, and the treatment reduced small bowel inflammation in mice.

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