Fungus in the intestines could be responsible for the development of Crohn’s disease, scientists have discovered.
Candida tropicalis works alongside two other bacteria to cause the debilitating bowel condition, experts found.
It fuses together with E. coli and S. marcescens to produce a layer of microorganisms in the intestines which can cause symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
The findings could lead to new treatments or even cures for the debilitating inflammatory bowel condition, experts believe.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system which affects millions of people worldwide.
Its cause is still not known and there is currently no cure but some with the condition have considered their diet to be a factor.
Steroids and sometimes surgery are also recommended but serious complications – including perforation of the bowel – can occur.
Bacteria is already known to play a major role in causing Crohn’s disease, in addition to genetics and diet.
Both bacteria and fungi are microorganisms and can only be seen through a microscope – but have a key difference.
Fungi are eukaryotes – an organism whose cells contain a nucleus. On the other hand, bacteria are prokaryotes – single-celled forms of life with no nucleus.
Patients with Crohn’s disease are known to have abnormal immune responses to these bacteria, which inhabit the intestines of every living person.
Study author Mahmoud Ghannoum, from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, said: ‘Essentially, patients with Crohn’s have abnormal immune responses to these bacteria, which inhabit the intestines of all people.
‘While most researchers focus their investigations on these bacteria, few have examined the role of fungi, which are also present in everyone’s intestines.
‘Our study adds significant new information to understanding why some people develop Crohn’s disease.
‘Equally important, it can result in a new generation of treatments, including medications and probiotics, which hold the potential for making qualitative and quantitative differences in the lives of people suffering from Crohn’s.’
A team of international researchers assessed the bacterial and fungal make-up of patients with Crohn’s disease and their relatives without.
They analysed fecal samples of 20 patients with the condition and 28 of their relatives without from nine families.
They also assessed 21 participants without Crohn’s disease from four families
Two bacteria, E. coli and S. marcescens, and one fungi Candida tropicalis moved together.
The presence of all three in the patients with the condition was significantly higher than their relatives without Crohn’s disease – suggesting they interact together in the intestines.
Additionally, further tests found E. coli fuse to the fungal cells and S. marcescens forming a bridge connecting them to produce a biofilm – a thin, slimy layer of microorganisms that can be found in a section of the intestines.
This can prompt inflammation that results in the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
This study was the first to find any link between fungus and Crohn’s disease in humans, as previous research was conducted on mice.
Researchers also found much lower levels of beneficial bacteria reside in the bodies of patients with the bowel condition.
But he said further research is needed to determine exact contributors to Crohn’s disease.
The findings were published in the journal mBio.