In a new study, researchers found that micro-organisms in the gut support healthy digestion by helping nerve cells within the intestine to regulate the contraction and relaxation of the muscle wall of the colon.
The research was conducted by a team from the Crick and Bern University.
A healthy gut contains trillions of microorganisms that help the digestion of food and promote the fitness of gut tissues, such as the epithelial lining of the lumen and the vast collection of immune and nerve cells within the gut wall.
The levels and types of microorganisms in the gut vary from person to person and are affected by diet and commonly used drugs, such as antibiotics, which often result in abnormal gut contractions.
The study identified how the contraction and relaxation of muscles in the colon, which is regulated by nerve cells and is needed to push food along, is influenced by the bacteria resident in the gut.
When such microbes are present, a specific gene called AhR is activated in intestinal nerves, resulting in healthy contraction and relaxation of the colon (peristalsis).
This relationship can be disrupted in cases of intestinal disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The team found that AhR, a molecule that is very important for the function of immune and epithelial cells in the gut, is also used by intestinal nerve cells to sense the presence of microbes and regulate peristalsis, and in doing so, promote healthy digestion.
They say that in the future, the use of microbial products that change the activity of AhR in nerve cells could help alleviate the consequences of abnormal gut peristalsis that is often linked to gastrointestinal diseases.
The lead author of the study is Yuuki Obata, a postdoc in the Development and Homeostasis of the Nervous System Laboratory at the Crick.
The study is published in Nature.
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