Food poisoning may be the unwanted gift that keeps on giving — at least according to a new study. A startling discovery by UC Santa Barbara scientists, published today in the journal Science, reveals how a past history of bacterial infections adds up with age to cause severe inflammatory disease.
Small bacterial infections, which may go unnoticed and which clear the body without treatment — such as occurs in mild food poisoning — nevertheless can start a chain of events that leads to chronic inflammation and life-threatening colitis. The new findings also may identify the long-mysterious origins of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The project was led by Jamey Marth, director of UCSB’s Center for Nanomedicine and also a professor at the Sanford Burnham Prebys (SBP) Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla. Additional collaborators were lead author Won Ho Yang, Michael Mahan, Douglas Heithoff and Peter Aziz, who hold joint appointments at UCSB’s Center for Nanomedicine and the SBP Discovery Institute, and Dr. Victor Nizet of UC San Diego and Markus Sperandio of Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich.
“We have discovered an environmental and pathogenic origin of chronic intestinal inflammation in the course of modeling human food poisoning as it occurs repeatedly over the adult lifespan,” co-author Marth explained. “Remarkably, salmonellae have figured out a way to disrupt a previously unknown protective mechanism in the gut that normally prevents intestinal inflammation.”