Progress in the fight against chronic inflammatory bowel disease

Image: Panthermedia
Image: Panthermedia

Team including FAU researchers makes new discovery about molecular processes which cause disease

Recurring episodes of diarrhoea, stomach pains and weight loss – these are the symptoms of chronic inflammatory bowel disease which more than 300,000 people in Germany suffer from. The latest research findings currently suggest that a weakened intestinal barrier causes this disease. Researchers at FAU, together with a team of researchers from Ghent University in Belgium, have shown for the first time that the enzyme RIP1 plays a key role in a functioning intestinal barrier which protects the body against intestinal bacteria. The results of their work have been published in the current edition of renowned journal Nature.

Epithelial cells in the intestine form a thin layer which prevents the bacteria in the gut flora from entering the body. If intestinal bacteria pass through this barrier and enter the body this can cause inflammation. During their investigations, the group of researchers from Belgium and Erlangen discovered that a lack of the enzyme RIP1 leads to increased apoptosis – programmed cell death carried out by the epithelial cells – the function of which is normally to break down unnecessary cells, for example. When cells die, holes form in the intestinal barrier which results in inflammation of the intestinal mucosa.

Findings from previous research carried out by a team led by Prof. Dr. Christoph Becker from the Department of Medicine 1 at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen are an important part of the research project. During their experiments, the team saw that when there was a lack of RIP1 in the epithelial cells, the enzyme caspase 8 was activated excessively in these cells. This enzyme plays a key role in programmed cell death. In mice which were bred without caspase 8 in their epithelial cells, apoptosis did not occur.

‘If we have a better understanding of how the disease occurs and which molecular processes are involved, we will be able to treat it much more accurately with medication in the future,’ explains Becker. At the moment, medication only alleviates the symptoms and often comes with considerable side effects. ‘We hope to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms behind cell death in the intestine so that we will be able to better control cell death in the intestinal epithelium in the future,’ says Becker.

A large amount of research into chronic inflammatory bowel disease is carried out at FAU and Universitätsklinikum, at departments such as the Department of Medicine 1. It has a special outpatient clinic which treats patients with chronic inflammatory bowel disease and several working groups at the Department are carrying out research into the cellular and molecular causes of the disease and new forms of treatment. The CEDER research centre, the only one of its kind in Germany, receives more than two million euros in annual funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG) as part of its Clinical Research Units programme.

doi: 10.1038/nature13706

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Christoph Becker
Phone: +49 9131 8535886