Study finds a possible connection between psychological stress Crohn’s disease flare-ups, and psychological stress

McMaster University researchers have discovered the possibility of a link between stress levels in the mind and Crohn’s flare-ups.

Researchers using mouse models found that stress hormones suppressed the immune system’s innate defense mechanism that normally protects the gut from invasion Enterobacteriaceae which is a group of bacteria including E. coli which has been linked with Crohn’s Disease.

The protective barrier of epithelial cells in the gut, which guards against harmful microbes and repairs the cell wall is essential to the innate immune system. It relies on molecular signals from the immune cells to secrete mucus and block harmful microbes. If immune cells aren’t functioning properly, the epithelial cellular wall could break down and allow microbes associated with Crohn’s disease, to enter the gut and trigger flare-ups of symptoms.

The most important message is that psychological stress can affect the body’s ability to combat harmful bacteria that could be linked to Crohn’s disease. Innate immunity is designed to shield us from microbes that don’t belong in the gut, such as harmful bacteria.”

Brian Coombes is a senior author, professor, and chair of biochemistry at McMaster.

“When our innate immune system is functioning properly it stops harmful bacteria from invading our body however, when it breaks down, it creates an opportunity for pathogens to invade areas they normally aren’t able to and can cause illness.”

The study was published in Nature Communications, Nov. 18.

Coombes claimed that the elimination of stress hormones from mouse models restored proper function to immune cells as well as epithelial cells. This prevented the invading of harmful microbes.

While this discovery could lead to new treatments for Crohn’s disease, Coombes insists that these results are at a preclinical stage and more work needs to be done.

“The more we understand about the causes of Crohn’s disease the closer we are to developing new treatments and potentially even disease prevention,” said Coombes.

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory disorder that causes inflammation, ulcers and scarring of the digestive system. Although the cause of the disease isn’t completely understood, Coombes said patients with the condition typically have a weakened microbiome of the gut that is that is dominated by Enterobacteriaceae such as E. coli.

The Coombes lab is part of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research and the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute located at McMaster University. External funding for the research was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.

Journal reference:

Shaler, C.R., and others. (2021) Psychological stress reduces IL22-driven mucosal immunity in the gut against colonising pathobionts. Nature Communications.

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Gemma Wilson

Gemma is a journalism graduate with keen interest in covering business news – specifically startups. She has as a keen eye for technologies and has predicted quite a few successful startups over the last couple of years.

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