Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) represents a serious medical disorder marked by aberrant immune responses within the human gastrointestinal tract, and results in severe clinical outcomes in affected patients. Overwhelming clinical and laboratory research has shown that commensal bacteria, harbored within the intestines of human patients and animals, are the targets of inflammatory responses. Furthermore, many researchers have predicted that members of the gut microflora may modulate the development of IBD, and that certain subsets of symbiotic bacteria may direct protective mucosal immune responses. However, the identity of these beneficial microbes and the molecular mechanisms they employ during protection from disease are largely unknown. We have shown that during symbiosis of animals with the ubiquitous gut microorganism Bacteroides fragilis, a bacterial polysaccharide (PSA) directs the cellular and physical maturation of the developing immune system. Most significantly, the importance of this process to health is demonstrated by our findings that colonization with B. fragilis protects animals from experimental colitis. Thus, for the first time, a single symbiotic bacterial species has been experimentally demonstrated to direct a beneficial immunologic program during protection from disease. Preliminary data suggest a novel process of intestinal immune regulation and anti-inflammatory responses elicited in the gastrointestinal tract of protected animals. However, the biological mechanisms which govern how B. fragilis promotes health remain almost entirely undefined. Through the merger of immunologic and microbiologic approaches incorporated into a widely-relevant animal model, we seek to identify the immune cells and molecules required to mediate the critical balance between intestinal health and disease during host-bacterial symbiosis.
Inflammatory bowel disease affects millions of people world-wide, causing widespread suffering and mortality. We seek to determine if the beneficial intestinal microorganism, Bacteroides fragilis, can serve as a probiotic to protect laboratory animals from experimental colitis. Based on strong preliminary evidence, we propose this unique microbe can elicit host anti-inflammatory responses to establish intestinal health in animals. Most importantly, this information may potentially provide the basis for development of novel therapeutic treatments for IBD in humans.
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