FAU: An important new insight into inflammatory bowel disease

The messenger substance which can cause chronic inflammation is produced in the intestinal tissue in the Th9 cells, shown here in red and green. (Image: Universitätsklinikum Erlangen)

Medical researchers in Erlangen discover special messenger substances as cause

Researchers at the Department of Medicine 1 at FAU have identified the messenger substance interleukin 9 (IL9) as a trigger for inflammation in chronic inflammatory bowel diseases and shown that it is produced by a specific group of white blood cells. This insight could pave the way for a new form of treatment for bowel diseases. The study has recently been published in the journal ‘Nature Immunology’.

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease of the colon which usually occurs in recurrent attacks. The number of patients affected in Germany is estimated at approximately 168,000. Typical symptoms of this disease are bloody diarrhoea, stomach pains, constant need to empty the bowel and general physical weakness. Despite global research efforts, the exact cause of this bowel disease is still unknown.

A group of researchers led by Prof. Markus Neurath and Dr. Benno Weigmann at the Department of Medicine 1,Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, has been carrying out research into the molecular factors which cause inflammatory bowel disease for many years. Interleukins – messenger substances which allow white blood cells to communicate with each other in order to fight pathogens in a co-ordinated manner – play a special role in the regulation of the bowel’s immune system. They are produced by a specific group of white blood cells called T cells.

Previous studies have shown that a particular interleukin, interleukin 9 (IL9), has an effect on different types of cells in inflammatory reactions in the lungs. That this messenger substance is also a key factor in inflammatory bowel disease was unknown until now. Medical researchers in Erlangen were able to prove this: ‘We discovered an increased concentration of IL9 in patients’ T cells,’ explains Katharina Gerlach, a research associate from the research group. ‘In later experiments, using a model we were able to confirm that IL9 does indeed trigger inflammation as we suspected.’

This discovery provides an incredibly important starting point for a potential form of treatment which was also initially tested in a model system: ‘By eliminating IL9 in the model system, we were able to minimise inflammation in the acute and chronic phases of the disease and demonstrate the destructive effect on the intestinal epithelium,’ say the researchers.

In order to reduce the level of IL9 in a targeted manner, the researchers also investigated exactly which T cells produce the messenger substance which is responsible for the inflammatory reaction in the bowel. In doing so they were able to identify a particular T cell population: the Th9 cells. Neurath and his team hope that regulating IL9 using specific antibodies could therefore form the basis of a new, effective method of treatment.


Further information:

Prof. Markus Neurath
Phone: +49 9131 8535200


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