A New Potential Drug Target for Inflammatory Diseases such as Ulcerative Colitis Discovered

Claudia Stäubert and her team of researchers at the University of Leipzig have just reported noteworthy findings which could impact the future treatment of inflammatory diseases.

Lactic acid bacteria, or LAB, is the type of bacteria that turns cabbage into sauerkraut and milk into yogurt. Fermented foods like these are the latest health craze. The microbiota is so important to an overall healthy body and you’ve probably seen products advertising that they’re good for your gut health. Ultimately, we know that LAB is beneficial, and these benefits have been extensively documented in scientific journals. But truth be told, scientists are still quite confused, on a molecular level, why LAB is so beneficial to the immune system and how it all works.

Stäubert has uncovered one of the ways this bacteria interacts with our bodies which could lead the way to innovative research on the benefits of fermented foods.

The Study

It all began with an investigation of proteins located on the surface of hydroxycarboxylic acid (HCA) receptors. HCA is unique because while most animals only have two different forms of the receptor, apes and humans actually have three. HCA3 is expressed in the lung, apidocytes, the skin, and immune cells. The purpose of this third HCA has never truly been understood. Why did HCA3 stay through evolution? These researchers set to find out.

Through a series of tests the researchers discovered, D-phenyllactic acid (D-PLA), a metabolite that is produced by LAB. It is an anti-bacterial metabolite found in foods like yogurt and sauerkraut which have high levels of LAB. The researchers uncovered that D-PLA is actually the most potent agonist for activating HCA3. It is well absorbed by the human gut and triggers the movement of immune cells in the body. HCA3 transfers the signals of metabolites (like D-PLA) derived from LAB into a physiological response. The researchers suspect that this third HCA receptor originated in a common ancestor of apes and allowed them to consume foods that had already started to decay. This new understanding will hopefully open the eyes of researchers into the various and versatile benefits of both LAB and their metabolites.

Since the researchers believe this receptor could impact the beneficial anti-inflammatory effects of LAB in humans, they think it could potentially be a drug target for inflammatory diseases. Inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis, glomerulonephritis, asthma, and rare autoimmune disease may benefit from this discovery.

The researchers next plan to investigate what impact D-phenyllactic acid has on the body’s immune system. They also want to study whether or not the metabolite affects fat cells as well. It’s perceived that these cells may be affected because they too carry the 3rd HCA receptor.

Looking Forward

Not only does this investigation provide new evolutionary insight, it also has opened a whole new door concerning the investigation of fermented foods and their benefits in the human body. Specifically, these foods have significant potential for aiding those suffering from inflammatory diseases.

You can read more about this study and its potential impact here. You can also read the full study, published in PLOS Genetics.

If you are diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and are in the search for more resources the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association is a national nonprofit which provides patient services in addition to education initiatives, research, and efforts to increase public awareness.

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