Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have moved a step closer to possible clinical testing of a mouse model that includes immune-reactive T cells from patients with Crohn's disease in a flagellin peptide-specific immunotherapy, which might provide similar benefits in patients.
Led by Dr Charles O Elson, a professor at UAB Department of Medicine Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, and co-first authors, Drs Katie Alexander and Qing Zhao, the study is the first to describe IgG antibodies in Crohn's disease specific for human-derived flagellins of bacteria belonging to the Lachnospiraceae family. Knowledge of the specific flagellin epitopes that drive the pathogenic adaptive immune response in Crohn's disease is necessary information for Elson's potential triple-punch Crohn's disease treatment. Goals of the treatment are removing or exhausting pathogenic T memory cells and increasing the number of immunomodulatory T regulatory cells.
Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are characterised by dysregulated adaptive immune responses to the microbiota in genetically susceptible individuals, but the human specificity of these responses had so far been largely undefined. Mouse microbiota flagellins have previously been defined as immunodominant antigens in Crohn's disease.
Flagellins are building blocks of the hairlike motility flagella that extend from the bacterial cell wall. Flagellin is a potent immune activator and antigen, and it is the only known microbial protein that has three receptors for innate immunity encoded in the host genome, in addition to immunoglobulin and T cell receptors.
The UAB researchers individually probed blood sera from 87 healthy volunteers, 152 patients with Crohn's disease and 170 patients with ulcerative colitis. They used protein arrays of microbiota bacterial flagellins of both mouse and human origin, and they analysed sera for IgG and IgA antibody responses. The findings were featured in the paper, 'Human microbiota flagellins drive adaptive immune responses in Crohn's disease,' published in Gastroenterology.
They found selective patterns of antibody reactivity to microbiota flagellins among the inflammatory bowel disease patients. The Crohn's disease patients, but not the ulcerative colitis patients, had augmented serum IgG antibodies to Lachnospiraceae flagellins from various species of Roseburia and one species of Eubacterium. These bacteria are normal residents in the human ileum, the third segment of the small intestine. A subset of the Crohn's disease patients had very high responses, with antibodies against more than ten different flagellins.
For that subset of Crohn's disease patients, the multiflagellin hyper-reactivity was associated with indications of severe dysregulated immune response. Patients in the subset had: 1) elevated flagellin-specific T memory cells; 2) a reduced ratio of flagellin-reactive T regulatory to T effector cells; and 3) a high frequency of disease complications.
"Thus, Crohn's disease patients displayed a strong adaptive immune response to human-derived Lachnospiraceae flagellins, which may be targeted for prognosis and future personalised therapies," added Elson.
Co-authors of the study are Drs Meagan Reif, Peter J Mannon and Lennard Wayne Duck, UAB Department of Medicine; and Alexander F Rosenberg, UAB Department of Microbiology.