An immune response to mitochondrial DNA that leaks into the blood stream from the gut could be an underlying cause of inflammatory bowel disease, according to new research published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.
Gwo-tzer Ho, FRCP, PhD, of the gastrointestinal unit at Western General Hospital, University of Edinburgh, and colleagues found that due to their shared ancestry, mitochondrial DNA’s (mtDNA) similarity to bacteria could be confusing the immune system into thinking there is an infection threat in the gut.
“We found that [mtDNA] is not only detected in the circulation of these patients with inflammatory bowel disease, but they were also significantly higher in patients with active inflammatory bowel disease, and mtDNA levels were linked with how severe the inflammatory bowel disease activity is,” Ho said in a video abstract.
Ho and colleagues collected plasma samples from 97 patients with IBD and a control group of 40 participants without IBD.
The researchers found significantly more evidence of mtDNA in the samples from patients with IBD compared with the control group (P < .0001). They also found that the mtDNA levels correlated with blood, clinical and endoscopic markers of disease severity and disease activity.
Ho said this discovery gives researchers an entirely new pathway to potential treatments for IBD, as well as a new biomarker that could help monitor the disease and guide therapy.
“We believe this is the first evidence to show that [mtDNA] is a danger signal that drives inflammatory response in IBD,” he said. “Blocking this signal is potentially a new way to treat IBD, and this is precisely what we’re working on at the moment.” – by Alex Young
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.