For approximately 70 years, physicians have used a medication containing the active agent mesalamine to treat ulcerative colitis, but little was known about how the drug targeted the Ulcerative Colitis.Now, a group of University of Michigan researchers have identified one of the ways by which mesalamine works.Ulcerative colitis is part of a group of inflammatory bowel diseases that affect 1.6 million people in the United States, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. One of the key characteristics of colitis is chronic inflammation of the colon. The U-M researchers discovered that mesalamine targets a bacterial stress response system that otherwise may help microorganisms survive in an environment of chronic inflammation.
Left unchecked, these microorganisms could cause greater infection, which then leads to more inflammation, and shutting down that system might help restore a microbiome healthy for the gut. The researchers, who include professor and lead author Ursula Jakob and postdoctoral student Jan-Ulrik Dahl, both of the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, published their results today (Jan. 23) in the journal Nature Microbiology.The microorganisms’ stress response system produces a substance called polyphosphate. Bacteria that are unable to make polyphosphate are less virulent, defective in forming antibiotic-resistant biofilms, less able to colonize the gut and are more sensitive to inflammatory oxidants, which are produced by our bodies to combat harmful bacteria.