Cornell links Toxoplasma and Crohn's to shed light on autoimmune disease

Jun 01, 2011

ITHACA, N.Y. — Veterinary immunologists at Cornell believe their work with Toxoplasma and development of Crohn's disease offers new insights into the prevention and treatment of a slew of autoimmune diseases.

Veterinary researchers at Cornell discovered a cell within the human immune system that, when paired with this common parasite, can lead to the onset of Crohn's disease, explains Carly Hodes, a Cornell communications specialist.

"Our lab started using Toxoplasma to model Crohn's disease in humans and help us find the pivotal perpetrator, which has turned out to be a cell from our own immune systems," says Eric Denkers, PhD, a professor of immunology at Cornell's veterinary college.

The cells patrol intestinal walls and release messenger proteins when they encounter invaders, he says.

"Too many messenger proteins recruit too many immune cells, causing inflammation that can devastate the host's own tissue. Bad balance between good bacteria, bad bacteria and immune interactions like inflammation cause Crohn's disease," he adds.

The study, which Denkers co-authored with research associate Dr. Charlotte Egan, was published in Mucosal Immunology and the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology.