Micro-organisms in the gut support healthy digestion by helping nerve cells within the intestine to regulate the contraction and relaxation of the muscle wall of the colon, according to new research from the Crick and Bern University.
The study, published in Nature , identified how the contraction and relaxation of muscles in the colon, which is regulated by nerve cells and is needed to push food along, is influenced by the bacteria resident in our gut. When such microbes are present, a specific gene called Ahr is activated in intestinal nerves, resulting in healthy contraction and relaxation of the colon (peristalsis). This relationship can be disrupted in cases of intestinal disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
There is a clear link between the presence of microbes in the colon and the speed at which food moves through the system. If this relationship goes off-kilter it could cause considerable harm." Yuuki Obata, lead author and postdoc in the Development and Homeostasis of the Nervous System Laboratory at the Crick
A healthy gut contains trillions of microorganisms which help the digestion of food and promote the fitness of gut tissues, such as the epithelial lining of the lumen and the vast collection of immune and nerve cells within the gut wall. The levels and types of microorganisms in the gut vary from person to person and are affected by diet and commonly used drugs, such as antibiotics, which often result in abnormal gut contractions. The work described in this paper helps us understand how nerve cells sense the microbes in the gut and how they could coordinate their function with other gut tissues.
"Disturbances of intestinal motility are extremely common and cause a lot of suffering in patients after surgical operations or in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. This work provides a foundation to unravel why patients that are colonised with different groups of microbes are susceptible to these intestinal problems", explains Andrew Macpherson, Professor of Medicine and Director of Gastroenterology at the University Hospital of Bern. Related Stories
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