Toxic Fungus May be the Cause of Irritable Bowel Disease

New research from Cornell University has shown that Candida albicans, a species of fungus, is over-represented in the guts of those with ulcerative colitis.

The more severe the case, the higher the level of Candida.

A lot of research on the human microbiome has focused on bacteria and viruses, but recent research by Dr. Iliev of Cornell Uniuversity and others has illuminated the contributions of fungi to the effects of microbes on humans and mice.

They found that fungi in the intestines play an important role in regulating immunity at surfaces exposed to the outside (ones like the lungs).

The researchers then turned to mice models to see what effect these fungi had on the immune system.

In mice without colon inflammation, the yeast did not grow or spread.

But in mice with colon inflammation, mimicking ulcerative colitis, it did.

“Our findings suggest that C. albicans strains do not cause spontaneous intestinal inflammation in a host with intact immunity,” says Iliyan Iliev from Weill Cornell Medicine at Cornell University in the US.

“But they do expand in the intestines when inflammation is present and can be a factor that influences response to therapy in our models and perhaps in patients.”

“We do not know whether specific strains are acquired by specific patients during the course of disease or whether they have been always there and become a problem during episodes of active disease,” says Iliev.

“Nevertheless, our findings highlight a mechanism by which commensal [that is, internal cohabitants] fungal strains can turn against their host and overdrive inflammation,” he said.

“Neutrophils contribute to tissue damage and their accumulation is a hallmark of active IBD,” said Dr. Ellen Scherl, the Jill Roberts Professor of Inflammatory Bowel Disease at Weill Cornell Medicine and a gastroenterologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

“The indication that these processes might in part be driven by a fungal toxin released by yeast strains in specific patients could potentially inform personalized treatment approaches,” she added.

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