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article imageGut bacteria can ‘switch off’ the immune system

By Tim Sandle     Sep 9, 2013 in Science
Sheffield - Bacteria which cause stomach infections can, in some cases, switch off parts of the immune system leading to a greater risk of duodenal ulcers or stomach cancer.
Helicobacter pylori is a bacterium that infects some people, leading to a life-long association with stomach ulcers and chronic gastritis. It has been estimated that more than 50% of the world's population harbor H. pylori in their upper gastrointestinal tract; although only 1 in 5 people will ever show any symptoms. Where systems do occur, the bacterium can cause problems in both children and adults.
One way by which H. pylori becomes dominant, new research indicates, is that it is able to suppress the body’s normal production of an antimicrobial factor present in the stomach lining that helps prevent bacterial infection (this is called ‘human beta defensin 1’ (hβD1)). Beta defensins are peptides and code for genes are responsible for production of antimicrobial peptides found in white blood cells. This was shown by collecting stomach tissue biopsies from 54 patients at the Queens Medical Center, Nottingham.
One problem with the bacterium over the long-term is that it causes tissue damage over several decades. This can lead to more serious conditions developing because chronic inflammation of the stomach lining is strongly linked to gastric cancer.
The research was undertaken at the University of Nottingham and reported to the Society for General Microbiology Autumn Conference, taking place this week at the University of Sussex.
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