Medical professionals have been studying inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) for many years in an effort to fully understand it. Now there has been a breakthrough, as researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have discovered a connection between the hypothalamus and IBD.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term used for a group of disorders that involve chronic inflammation in the digestive tract. This group includes conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The exact cause of IBD is unknown, but many suspect that it has to do with an immune system malfunction. Healthcare professionals suspect that an abnormal response of the immune system is triggered when it attempts to fight off viruses or bacteria, which then causes the system to attack the cells within the digestive tract.
While the cause is unknown, there are risk factors that are known to lead to or aggravate the disease. These factors include diet, stress, cigarettes, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Age is another factor, as the majority of people are diagnosed with IBD before age 30. This disease affects mainly white people, and people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are at an even higher risk. If one has a family history of IBD, there is a higher likelihood that they will develop this disease. Location can also affect IBD, with those living in industrialized countries or northern climates have a higher chance of developing it.
Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease vary with the location and severity of inflammation. Many people experience periods of active symptoms followed by periods of remission. These active symptoms include diarrhea, fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, cramping, blood in stool, loss of appetite, and unintentional weight loss. Seeking treatment is important as complications of this disease include colon cancer, blood clots, primary sclerosing cholangitis, and inflammation of the eyes, joints, and skin.
The Hypothalamus and IBD
Medical professionals suspected that the hypothalamus had a connection to IBD after seeing the correlation between stress and depression and IBD. Armed with prior research into mood disorders and this rare condition, they launched a new study.
They utilized 3D genomic mapping and genome-wide association studies in order to conduct the study, with their first step finding the genetic correlation between IBD and depression. They found that the two had a strong connection, with hypothalamic-like neurons (HNs) playing a role in both. From here, they began to search for pathways that play a role in IBD and were enriched with HNs.
This effort resulted in the discovery of 25 genes that are associated with HNs that also raise the risk of developing IBD. Eleven already have known functions within the brain, whether it is encoding for stress or another role. Overall, researchers concluded that stress and depression, which are linked directly to the hypothalamus, can predispose one to IBD.
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