Bacteria in the Gut Offer Clues to Diabetes
INSTITUTE UPDATE: This study was recognized among JDRF’s Top 10 Research Advances in 2014. Learn more.
Communities of bacterial microorganisms in the gut which make up the microbiome, outnumber our cells by 10 to 1. These microbes can be “friends” that help deliver nutrients, or “foes” that cause pain and disease. Findings from a new JDRF-funded study co-authored by University of Florida diabetes researchers underscores the role of these microorganisms in the pathogenesis of metabolic diseases such as Type 1 diabetes.
Researchers from UF and the Institute of Diabetes Research in Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen, Germany studied the gut microbiomes of 44 children from infancy to age three from the JDRF-funded BABYDIET study. During the course of the study, scientists compared the composition and interaction of the gut microbiota in children who went on to develop Type 1 diabetes-specific autoantibodies in their blood with data from children who were autoantibody negative.
They found that in the group of children with anti-islet autoantibodies, who subsequently developed Type 1 diabetes, certain bacteria within the gut microbiome were for some reason more physically isolated from other bacterial species. These bacteria did not display the normal symbiotic interactions that appear to occur in those without anti-islet autoantibodies, and this uncommunicative behavior occurred regardless of bacterial abundance or diversity within the gut microbiome. Researchers believe that the lack of sufficient bacterial integration and subsequent breakdown in communication within the gut microbiome may combine with certain environmental triggers to contribute to the pathogenesis of Type 1 diabetes. Such triggers could include complex interactions between factors such as method of birth, genetics, and nutrition of both mother and baby—all of which are known to affect the gut microbiome.
Future research is now needed to include study participants without a familial predisposition to Type 1 diabetes, to explore the possible causes of the interesting bacterial interplay revealed in this latest study, and to discover how these findings are related to the immune system defects and autoimmunity associated with Type 1 diabetes. These next stages in research could help lead to novel prevention therapies for people at risk of developing the disease.