UT Southwestern researchers have found a link between the immune defense system and gene mutations commonly seen in Crohn’s disease. They discovered that genes that regulate the cellular recycling system in the immune defense line are commonly mutated in Chron’s disease patients.
Led by Dr. Lora Hooper, chair of immunology at UT Southwestern, the research team conducted studies on bacteria residing in the intestines. These bacteria are needed to digest food, but can also cause illness if they penetrate bodily tissues. They also studied pathogens and microorganisms that can also cause Crohn’s disease, which beats the immune system’s first line of defense.
According to UT Southwestern, the study found that a backup defense system is called when bacteria or other threatening microorganisms attack. Hooper said in a statement: “This substitute pathway uses classical autophagy machinery to make and transport protein weapon reinforcements to the cell surface after the first line of defense fails.”
Mice possessing a mutation similar to Crohn’s disease in humans were used to further study the backup defense system. These mice were exposed to pathogens while researchers observed abnormalities in mice intestinal lining. Hooper found irregularities in the lining were similar to those in Crohn’s disease patients.
Hooper says this discovery is the first showing an alternative pathway is being used in immune defense in any kind of animal. “Understanding what is going on in Crohn’s patients and the role of mutations in this backup defense system will take much more research,” she said. “[But the study provides] a better understanding of what goes wrong in the intestinal lining in Crohn’s patients.”