There are trillions of bacteria populate the human gut – more than any other cells in our body. One of them is quite well known. It is Escherichia coli, commonly known as E. Coli, although it only constitutes about 0.1% of our gut flora. However, sometimes the intestinal bacteria level becomes unbalanced and causes diseases.
Now scientists from the University of Zurich demonstrated how a specific carbohydrate in the intestinal mucosa heavily multiplies certain E. coli bacteria and thus causes inflammations. Scientists also point out that simple flu remedies could help fight E. coli bacteria when it is causing trouble.
There is a huge variety of different bacteria that populates our gut. The composition of the flora in our guts is mostly decided by our diet. However, diseases and antibiotic treatment often induce significant shifts in the level and composition of these bacteria. Critical situations, for example damaging of the intestinal tissue and inflammations, occur when entire bacterial groups suddenly multiply heavily. Scientists could not figure out why such shifts in the levels of bacteria happen, but now researchers at the University of Zurich have discovered why the E. coli bacteria multiplies heavily and has an inflammatory effect in the intestines.
E. coli bacteria are common in all warm-blooded organisms and are largely harmless. Normally they constitute only about 0.1% of our gut flora, but if for some reason there are more of them, they can cause diarrhoea or a serious intestinal inflammation. Now scientists think they know this reason. They found that heavy multiplication of E. coli bacteria can be attributed to the availability of the carbohydrate sialic acid, which is found in large amounts in the proteins of the intestinal mucosa. E. coli uses enzyme sialidase to utilize the sialic acid. Scientists say that it is actually pretty fascinating that E. coli bacteria does not produce this kind of enzyme itself – it utilizes the enzyme, which is released by other intestinal bacteria.
Scientists managed to trace entire chain of events involved in a severe inflammation triggered by E. coli. At first, there is an injury the intestinal mucosa. It causes the increased multiplication of non-pathogenic bacteria, which emits sialidase. Then increased enzyme production releases sialic acid, which in turn multiplies E. coli bacteria and can thus cause intestinal inflammation. This causes a lot of troubles to the person, whose intestines get this inflammation. However, this entire research is not only about explaining the mechanism behind the disease, but also about finding a way to prevent it. And scientists managed to find a surprising working existing therapy, now used to treat flu.
Researchers found that in order to prevent the overproduction of E. coli bacteria a sialidase inhibitor could be used. It should alleviate the disease symptoms quite efficiently. Surprisingly, such sialidase inhibitors are not new at all – they have been developed to fight influenza virus.
Professor, Thierry Hennet, one of the authors of the study said that “derivatives of known flu agents such as Tamiflu and Relenza could therefore also be used for inflammatory intestinal diseases, which opens up new therapeutic possibilities”. However, diseases cause by E. coli bacteria cannot be treated simply by intake of flu medicine – scientists will continue to work to develop specialized drug therapies that in the near future should help patients all around the world to deal with this imbalance of intestine bacteria.