Early life exposure to normal bacteria of the GI tract (gut microbes) protects against autoimmune disease in mice, according to research published on-line in the January 17 edition of Science. The study may also have uncovered reasons why females are at greater risk of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus compared to males.
The consequences of the transplanted intestinal bacteria were examined for the metabolism of mice by mass spectrometry at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig.
Credit: Photo: André Künzelmann/UFZ
A second unexpected finding was the effects of the gut microbe treatments on sex hormones. "We were surprised to see that when young female mice received normal gut microbes from adult males, their testosterone levels rose. We then showed that this hormone was essential for the gut microbe treatment to protect against the disease. It was completely unexpected to find that the sex of an animal determines aspects of their gut microbe composition, that these microbes affect sex hormone levels, and that the hormones in turn regulate an immune-mediated disease," says Dr. Danska.
She adds, "We don't know yet how transfer of male gut microbes into females increases their testosterone, or how this process protects against autoimmunity. This study opens up a new research arena to explore the clinical potential of altering the gut microbe community to prevent or treat immune-mediated diseases."
The hygiene hypothesis
The findings support the 'hygiene hypothesis,' which suggests that the dramatic increase in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases over the past 50 years results from changes in our exposure to microbes. Gut microbes are essential for normal development and training of the immune system, for extracting nutrients from our food, and for protecting us from some infectious diseases. "Our gut microbial community is an essential part of ourselves – bacterial cells outnumber human cells in our bodies by more than ten to one – and we live with them as partners," explains Dr. Danska.
Previous research has shown that children living on farms, exposed to a denser and more complex microbial environment, have fewer immune-mediated diseases compared to their village or urban-dwelling peers.
Today's publication is the first to identify a difference between normal gut microbes in males and females reared in identical conditions, and to show that transfer of male-sourced gut bacteria protects against autoimmune disease in females with high genetic risk.
"Our findings point to a direct relationship between normal gut microbe composition and prevention of autoimmune disease. From these discoveries we can move on to characterize the relationships between gut microbes, sex hormones, and ways to control unwanted immune responses," says Dr. Danska.
Implications for diabetes and other autoimmune diseasesThe researchers' success in preventing type 1 diabetes from developing in high-risk mice suggests that similar approaches may be applicable in preventing and treating other immune diseases, particularly those showing a female sex bias, Dr. Danska says.
The paper's co-authors are from the University of Colorado Denver, the Helmholtz Centre in Leipzig, Germany, and the University of Bern in Switzerland. The study was funded by JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), Canadian Institutes of Health Research, National institutes of Health (US), Genome Canada-Ontario Genomics Institute, and SickKids Foundation.
Publication:Janet G. M. Markle, Daniel N. Frank, Steven Mortin-Toth, Charles E. Robertson, Leah M. Feazel, Ulrike Rolle-Kampczyk, Martin von Bergen, Kathy D. McCoy, Andrew J. Macpherson, Jayne S. Danska (2012): Sex Differences in the Gut Microbiome Drive Hormone-Dependent Regulation of Autoimmunity. SCIENCE, 17 January 2013, DOI: 10.1126/science.1233521
For more information, please contact:Polly Thompson
About SickKids Centre for Research and Learning
The SickKids Centre for Research and Learning will bring together researchers from different scientific disciplines and a variety of clinical perspectives, to accelerate discoveries, new knowledge and their application to child health — a different concept from traditional research building designs. The facility will physically connect SickKids science, discovery and learning activities to its clinical operations. Designed by award-winning architects Diamond + Schmitt Inc. and HDR Inc. with a goal to achieve LEED® Gold Certification for sustainable design, the Centre will create an architectural landmark as the eastern gateway to Toronto's Discovery District. The SickKids Centre for Research and Learning is funded by a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Government of Ontario, philanthropist Peter Gilgan and community support for the ongoing fundraising campaign. For more information, please visit www.sickkidsfoundation.com/bepartofit.
About the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental ResearchAt the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) scientists are researching the causes and consequences of far-reaching changes to the environment. They are concerned with water resources, biological diversity, the consequences of climate change and adaptability, environmental and biotechnologies, bioenergy, the behaviour of chemicals in the environment, their effect on health, modelling and social science issues. Their guiding theme: Our research contributes to the sustainable use of natural resources and helps to secure this basis for life over the long term under the effects of global change. The UFZ employs 1,000 people in Leipzig, Halle and Magdeburg. It is financed by the federal government and the federal states of Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.
http://www.ufz.de/The Helmholtz Association contributes towards solving major and pressing social, scientific and economic issues with scientific excellence in six research areas: Energy, Earth and Environment, Health, Key Technologies, Structure of Matter, Aeronautics, Aerospace and Transport. The Helmholtz Association is Germany's largest scientific organisation with over 33,000 employees in 18 research centres and an annual budget of approximately 3.4 billion euros. Its work stands in the tradition of the naturalist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894).
Further reports about: > Collaborative Learning > Environmental Research > Gates Foundation > SickKids > UFZ > autoimmune disease > bacterial cell > environmental risk > female mice > health services > human cell > hygiene hypothesis > immune-mediated diseases > inflammatory disease > natural resource > risk factor > water resource
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