A fungus may trigger Crohn’s disease, a devastating inflammatory bowel disease that often requires heavy-duty drugs, surgery or a combination of both to keep at bay.

For the first time ever, a team of scientists from around the world has identified a fungus as a key factor in the development of Crohn’s disease.

The researchers also linked a new bacterium in the microbiome to the previous bacteria associated with Crohn’s. The hope is that the groundbreaking study, published in the journal mBio, will lead to new treatments and, one day, a cure.

The scientists involved with the study acknowledged that they already know that bacteria, along with genetics and dietary factors, play a major role in the development of Crohn’s disease. But fungus was a missing piece of the puzzle. Specifically, Candida tropicalis.

“Essentially, patients with Crohn’s have abnormal immune responses to these bacteria, which inhabit the intestines of all people. While most researchers focus their investigations on these bacteria, few have examined the role of fungi, which are also present in everyone’s intestines. Our study adds significant new information to understanding why some people develop Crohn’s disease. Equally important, it can result in a new generation of treatments, including medications and probiotics, which hold the potential for making qualitative and quantitative differences in the lives of people suffering from Crohn’s.” — Mahmoud A Ghannoum, PhD, professor and director of the Center for Medical Mycology at Case Western Reserve and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

Bacteria and fungi live inside all of us. But in this study, researchers investigated the microbial that live inside fecal samples of people sick with Crohn’s disease and their healthy relatives. Looking at hundreds of different species living in human intestines, they found a striking finding. A combination of two types of bacteria and the fungus, Candida tropicalis, was strongly linked to the Crohn’s group. The presence of all three in the sick family members was significantly higher compared to healthy relatives, suggesting that the bacteria and fungus interact in the intestines.

And get this. This microbial trio, including the bacteria E. coli and Serratia marcescens and the fungus Candida tropicalis, worked together to form a bridge that connected the microbes and formed a slimy biofilm. This thin layer attaches to the intestines, prompting inflammation and Crohn’s disease symptoms.

This is the first time any fungus has been linked to Crohn’s in humans. It is also the first study to implicate S. marcescens in the Crohn’s-linked bacteriome. Another important finding? People living with Crohn’s disease had much lower levels of healthy bacteria in their intestines. This backs up previous findings.


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