American and Canadian researchers have made a discovery that could pave the way for a better understanding of bowel inflammatory diseases and possibly develop new treatments.
Like the glands and cells of your air pharynx, your colon contains mucus. Mucus is a viscous and translucent fluid that consists mainly of water, glycoproteins (which give it its physical and chemical properties), and ions. It is what comes out when you blow your nose. Its main known functions are related to immunity (protective layer, hydration, anti-infectious, etc.). It is produced by certain glands and certain cells inside the mucous membranes, including the intestinal mucosa.
Recently, it has become known that this intestinal mucus also serves to keep your tissues, microbiota, and excrement strictly separated. But so far there has been little information on how it is produced. In a recent experiment published in Science magazine, which was published in a press release by the National Institute of Health, American and Canadian researchers showed where this production takes place and what is essential for the proper functioning of the mechanism. They also develop some points on what their findings imply for certain intestinal pathologies.
Two types of mucus
The imaging data obtained from the experiment showed that most of the mucus is produced in the proximal part of the colon. The stool and our intestinal bacteria are covered with it throughout the different parts of the colon. In the distal part of the colon, the samples collected indicate that the mucus produced in it differs from the mucus produced in the proximal part.
In their study, the scientists have altered O-glycosylation a necessary process for mucus production. This reaction consists of the binding of a carbohydrate molecule to the lateral chain, at the level of the OH residues, of the two amino acids serine and threonine. If it is prevented, the production of mucus is affected, and with it the functions it performs. In the experiment, the mice that were modified in such a way that they specifically lacked the sugars necessary for this process no longer produced mucus. As a result, the above-mentioned separations did not take place, and the intestinal tissue started to be colonized by several microorganisms.
New hope for intestinal diseases
The same mice were more likely to develop inflammation and significant secondary colon diseases. In addition, the scientists also demonstrated the importance of microbiota for mucus production. In mice whose microbiota has been deliberately altered, mucus production was blocked. But when a microbiota from healthy rats was transplanted, production restarts normally.
This shows the importance of the microbiota itself for the production of intestinal mucus. It is therefore time to study the production of intestinal mucus in humans. If it works in a similar way and if it turns out that the problems at this level are partly at the origin of diseases with currently unknown causes, studies will have to be developed to find therapeutic solutions to support or restore mucus production.