Researchers at Penn State University identified a mechanism in which Escherichia coli proliferate in inflammatory bowel disease during flare-ups.

E. coli is a healthy bacteria that composes part of the predominant bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. In some patients with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), researchers have found that the healthy E. Coli may proliferate during a flare-up and further contribute to patient’s symptoms and progression of the disease.

There are several types of inflammatory bowel disease where opportunistic E. coli bacteria proliferates in the gut. Inflammatory bowel disease involves chronic inflammation of all or part of the gastrointestinal tract. IBD primary includes Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.

Here is an example of this in one of my patients with Crohn’s disease.
functional medicine crohns disease
functional medicine and crohns disease

The mechanisms by which this occurs with E. coli is not well understood. Identifying these mechanisms will help to reduce the E. coli burden on the inflamed gut and prevent chronic diseases often associated IBD such as musculoskeletal and dermatological conditions.

Researchers studied the interactions between enterobactin, myeloperoxidase, and lipocalin 2 and how they regulate E. coli in the gastrointestinal tract.

Enterobactin (Ent) is a chemical secreted by E. coli that takes iron from host proteins in the body and aids in the growth of E. coli.

Myeloperoxidase (MPO) is an antibacterial protein that white blood cells produce to kill bacteria. However, Enterobactin inhibits myeloperoxidate from doing this.

Another protein produced by white blood cells, Lipocalin 2 (Lcn2), collects up the Enterobactin so that the bacteria cannot obtain enough iron for their survival. The researchers found that Lcn2 can counteract the effects of Ent on MPO.

E. coli can be harmful under certain circumstances commonly seen in inflammatory bowel disease. This study has defined a defense mechanism used by E. coli.

Bacteriophages can be a great option here. They are not very well known but are one of the most abundant naturally occurring organisms on Earth. They can be found everywhere from the soil to drinking water. They only prey on bacteria, never human cells, and the bacteria have a difficult time becoming resistant to them. Phages are great because they are species specific- meaning different strains attack different bacteria. This makes them harmless human cells and even to non-targeted bacteria. This is much different than antibiotics that can wipe out all the beneficial bacteria of the gastrointestinal tract along with the harmful bacteria. Phages are classified as prebiotics and there are specific phages that can infect and inhibit the growth of E. coli only. Lytic phages are completely safe and considered GRAS (through review of published scientific literature, and based on their common use in food).

Source: Matam Vijay-Kumar et al. Interplay between enterobactin, myeloperoxidase and lipocalin 2 regulates E. coli survival in the inflamed gut. Nature Communications, May 2015 DOI:10.1038/ncomms8113

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