Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): Scientists Discover How Intestinal Viruses Affect the Gut

The human body is known to consist of trillions of cells including bacterial, viral, and fungal cells, and the gut, in particular, harbors a larger population of these microbial organisms than any other area in the body such as the genitals and skin. The majority of these microbes function to keep the body healthy, and an alteration in their function can lead to body disorders.

Gut Flora

Gut Flora

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Viruses, just like bacteria, have been discovered to reside in the human gut. However, the function of these microscopic organisms remained unknown until the recent study carried out by a team of scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). The scientists discovered that an abnormality in the virome (the intestinal viral community) may give room to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – a disease identified by the prolonged inflammation (redness and swelling) of the intestines.

The discovery process

In one experiment, the team examined the colon surgical tissue of a patient. When they separated viruses present in the tissue, they observed that viruses from normal intestinal tissue were capable of preventing inflammation, that is, they exhibited anti-inflammatory effects; while those from inflamed tissues caused inflammation of the intestinal tissue.

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In another experiment which they carried out using mice as a specimen, they observed that the group of mice that received viruses from a healthy human intestine into their gut showed no inflammatory responses in their intestine; while the group that received viruses dwelling in an inflamed human intestinal tissue, expressed a serious inflammation in their intestines.

According to senior author Kate. L. Jeffrey, one of the scientists that conducted the study, viruses in the intestinal tract of humans have been present since birth, and are shaped throughout the life of the human. This viral community is made up of a large population of viruses, and an abundant dark matter which the team is yet to identify.

Clinical significance

Thanks to this study, the function of the intestinal viruses has been identified, and it is now known that this group of gut microbe plays a significant role in maintaining a healthy gut that is free from inflammation.

In addition, since this study has uncovered the connection between intestinal viruses and IBD, it will now be easier to combat this disease effectively: vaccines that can prevent it can be developed, antiviral drugs can be manufactured, and the disease-causing viruses can be replaced by healthy ones.

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Previous research has only revealed the significance of bacteria in the gut, but thanks to Kate. L. Jeffrey and her other team members the function of viruses in the gut has also been revealed and this revelation would go a long way to help doctors treat inflammatory bowel diseases and other diseases linked to the viral community.


Human enteric viruses autonomously shape inflammatory bowel disease phenotype through divergent innate immunomodulation




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