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Protein Appears Key to Intestinal Balance

Researchers say discovery could offer insight into various illnesses

FRIDAY, Feb. 19 (HealthDay News) -- A protein that plays a key role in protecting the intestinal tract from bacterial infection and inflammation has been identified by U.S. researchers.

Reduced levels of the protein -- granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) -- could be an underlying factor in severe illness caused by pathogens such as E. coli and intestinal inflammation in inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease, the researchers said.

"The gut normally is in a chronic state of low-grade inflammation that is beneficial," study author Dr. Martin Kagnoff, professor emeritus of medicine and pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, said in a university news release.

"This study shows that GM-CSF has a profound influence in the regulation of cells that determine whether the gut lives in peace with this inflammation or becomes severely inflamed during infection," he said. "Any time that delicate balance is disrupted, all heck can break loose."

Kagnoff said the findings might help explain why some people with Crohn's disease benefit from receiving GM-CSF. A greater understanding of the role of GM-CSF in the gut could lead to new treatments based on the protein, he added.

The study is published in Cell Host & Microbe.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about inflammatory bowel disease.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of California, San Diego Health Sciences, news release, Feb. 17, 2010

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