Complaints with regard to intestinal gas are very common. To date, virtually all studies of intestinal gas have been directed to the study of the readily measured, quantitatively important gases (N2, O2, CO2, H2, and CH4). However, these gases have no odor and are unreactive with tissue. Trace quantities of sulfur-containing gases (H2S, methanethiol, and dimethylsulfide) are produced by colonic bacteria. These gases are extremely malodorous, very reactive with tissue, and have a toxicity comparable to that of cyanide. The physiology and clinical importance of these gases in man has received virtually no study. The overall goal of this project is to obtain the first quantitative data on the production and excretion of these sulfur gases in humans, and then determine the pathophysiological importance of these gases.
The specific aims of this proposal are to: 1) Measure the rate of excretion of sulfur-containing gases per rectum and the production of these gases by feces, and determine if the excessive production of these gases results from an abnormality of the bacterial flora or excessive availability of appropriate substrates; 2) Determine if the sulfur containing gases are responsible for the malodor of flatus, and if this condition can be treated via the ingestion of or external use of activated charcoal; 3) Determine if sulfur gas production in the colon can be assessed via measurements of sulfur gases excreted in expired air, and determine to what extent production of sulfur gases in the colon is responsible for halitosis; 4) Determine if the production of sulfur gases is an etiologic factor in the irritable colon syndrome, and if this sulfur gas production can be linked to an abnormality of the colonic flora (either increased sulfate-reducing bacteria or decreased bidifidobacteria); and 5) Determine if enhancing the numbers of fecal bifidobacteria (via feeding of fructooligosaccharides) will decrease sulfur gas production and alleviate the symptoms of the irritable colon syndrome.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
General Medicine A Subcommittee 2 (GMA)
Program Officer
May, Michael K
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University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Internal Medicine/Medicine
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Fume, J K; Springfield, J; Koenig, T et al. (2001) Measurement of fecal sulfide using gas chromatography and a sulfur chemiluminescence detector. J Chromatogr B Biomed Sci Appl 754:253-8
Furne, J; Springfield, J; Koenig, T et al. (2001) Oxidation of hydrogen sulfide and methanethiol to thiosulfate by rat tissues: a specialized function of the colonic mucosa. Biochem Pharmacol 62:255-9
Levitt, M D; Levitt, D G (2000) Appropriate use and misuse of blood concentration measurements to quantitate first-pass metabolism. J Lab Clin Med 136:275-80
Furne, J K; Suarez, F L; Ewing, S L et al. (2000) Binding of hydrogen sulfide by bismuth does not prevent dextran sulfate-induced colitis in rats. Dig Dis Sci 45:1439-43
Suarez, F L; Levitt, M D (2000) An understanding of excessive intestinal gas. Curr Gastroenterol Rep 2:413-9
Levitt, M D; Furne, J; Springfield, J et al. (1999) Detoxification of hydrogen sulfide and methanethiol in the cecal mucosa. J Clin Invest 104:1107-14
Levitt, M D; Ellis, C; Furne, J (1998) Influence of method of alveolar air collection on results of breath tests. Dig Dis Sci 43:1938-45
Levitt, M D; Furne, J; DeMaster, E (1997) First-pass metabolism of ethanol is negligible in rat gastric mucosa. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 21:293-7
Hertzler, S R; Savaiano, D A; Levitt, M D (1997) Fecal hydrogen production and consumption measurements. Response to daily lactose ingestion by lactose maldigesters. Dig Dis Sci 42:348-53
Levitt, M D; Fine, C; Furne, J K et al. (1996) Use of maltose hydrolysis measurements to characterize the interaction between the aqueous diffusion barrier and the epithelium in the rat jejunum. J Clin Invest 97:2308-15

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