An international team of researchers has discovered an enzyme that plays a crucial role in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The researchers hope that the new finding could potentially lead to therapies to help those affected by ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, collectively referred to as IBD.
The enzyme, coded for by the MEP1A gene, is a zinc-containing metalloprotease called meprin, and is abundant in the intestine.
The team at Penn State College of Medicine along with colleagues from Switzerland studied the role of meprin in IBD using genetically altered mice lacking the ability to produce it.
Meprin is abundant in the latter part of the small intestine, or terminal ileum, and is also present in the large intestine at a lower level.
British scientists found an alteration in the meprin gene that correlated with IBD and compared the levels of meprin in affected and unaffected sections of colons from IBD patients and from healthy people.
They found that the amount of enzyme in the IBD patient's inflamed colon was significantly lower than that in normal colon sections.
The researchers concluded that their findings strongly correlate the severity of inflammation associated with both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis with low meprin levels.
"This discovery is a major advance in understanding the genetic control of inflammation, and of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease in particular," said Dr Judith Bond, Distinguished Professor and Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State College of Medicine.