Science News | Short-term episodes of diarrhea could lead to long-term nutritional problems, study says

Washington [US], December 13 (ANI): A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that the toxin produced by the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) that causes diarrhea could lead to long-term nutritional problems.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that a toxin that leads to recurrent episodes of diarrhea in the short term could have other effects on the human digestive tract, by changing gene expression in cells that line the inside of the intestine. , inducing them to make a protein that the bacteria then uses to adhere to the intestinal wall.

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Lead author James M. Fleckenstein, MD, professor of molecular medicine and microbiology, said: “There is more than meets the eye with this toxin. Basically, it is changing the surface of the intestine to benefit itself, probably ultimately in detriment of the host, “

According to Fleckenstein, decades ago, people discovered how the toxin causes diarrhea, but until recently, no one had the tools to delve into what else this toxin could be doing.

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We are trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together to figure out how toxin-producing E. coli might be driving malnutrition and other domino effects of diarrhea, “Fleckenstein added.

Fleckenstein and first author Alaullah Sheikh, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher, study enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), a toxin-producing strain of E. coli that is a common cause of severe watery diarrhea.

The bacteria’s so-called heat-labile toxin causes the ion channels in intestinal cells to open, triggering an effusion of water and electrolytes into the digestive tract called diarrhea.

Around the world, young children still develop diarrhea an average of three times a year, and the youngest and poorest children are hit the hardest by the number of cases and the long-term health consequences, the study says.

Fleckenstein and Sheikh speculated that ETEC’s heat-labile toxin could be doing more than just causing acute diarrhea and dehydration. If so, it could explain the link between ETEC and malnutrition, stunting, and other problems.

To find other ways the toxin affects the gut, the researchers grew human intestinal cells in a dish and treated the cells with the toxin. They discovered that the toxin activates a set of genes known as CEACAM. One in particular, CEACAM6, encodes a protein normally found in cells of the small intestine at low levels.

Other experiments revealed that the toxin causes cells to produce more CEACAM6 protein, which the bacteria then uses to adhere to intestinal cells and release even more toxin. Furthermore, using intestinal biopsy samples from ETEC-infected people in Bangladesh, the researchers demonstrated that CEACAM6 expression increases in the small intestine during natural infection.

“This is one of the first evidence that ETEC can change the intestinal surface. We do not yet know how long it lasts and what it means for infected people, but it stands to reason that damage to this part of the intestine The body could affect the ability to absorb nutrients, “Sheikh added.

Fleckenstein, Sheikh, and their colleagues continue to study the link between ETEC and malnutrition, stunting, and other health consequences.

“We are trying in the laboratory to understand the role of ETEC and its toxins in relation to the non-diarrheal effects of ETEC infection, particularly in young children in developing countries,” Fleckenstein said. (AND ME)

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