It is well understood that the gut microbiome exerts an influence on the human immune system. However what has been less well understood is how this effect differs amongst healthy individuals, and those with gut inflammation such as is seen in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Those with IBD have been shown to have an altered microbial balance in the gut, often with reduced diversity compared to healthy controls, with Bacteroides and Firmicutes species particularly affected.

A recent study has taken a closer look at the bacterial extracellular vesicles (BEVs) released from gut bacteria, specifically those from Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron. BEVS are microscopic parcels created by commensal Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, containing a number of molecules. They are able to traverse the gut lining where they interact with immune cells in the mucosal layer, triggering a reaction. They can also enter the blood stream for systemic effect. In healthy individuals, BEVs have been shown to exert an anti-inflammatory effect, whereas in patients with IBD, this response is not seen.

This study looked at colonic cells from both healthy individuals and those with ulcerative colitis, looking at inflamed and uninflamed cells within both groups. The researchers found that BEVs target immune cells in a cell-type specific manner, with differences seen between cell types, and between the same cells in healthy and diseased individuals. This new finding may offer a new, targeted approach for therapy in IBD patients.

Gul, L. et al. (2022) Extracellular vesicles produced by the human commensal gut bacterium Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron affect host immune pathways in a cell‐type specific manner that are altered in inflammatory bowel disease. Journal of Extracellular Vesicles 11 (1).

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