Discovering the biomarkers that lead to IBS

Currently, IBS is diagnosed through a process of elimination. Basically, that means the most common way doctors know what triggered the IBS is by eliminating various factors, such as food, stress, or depression. So yeah, diagnosis is a trial and error, which can be frustrating for many.

A European team at the Technical University of Munich spent almost a decade searching for the holy grail — a biomarker that would make diagnosis more precise and simple to execute. They may have just found it. The team of scientists published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE, which highlight the potential of enzyme profiling as a valuable strategy for identifying IBS biomarkers.

Evidence demonstrates that an altered nerve function is a major factor to causing IBS. Enzyme molecules released in the intestines by the intestinal mucosa have been shown to trigger the nerves along the intestinal wall. The researchers executed an experiment to reproduce this activity by extracting mucosal “liquid,” (aka supernatants) from patients suffering from IBS. In comparison, supernatants collected from a control group showed these enzymes did not exist.

The research team then duplicated the experiment in ulcerative colitis (UC) to determine if there was any overlap. Because people with UC report similar symptoms to IBS, there is an assumption that both are related. And they were right. The supernatants collected from patients with UC also activated the neurons. But there is a significant difference between the two.

Researchers discovered that IBS supernatants have a specific protein pattern that was different from UC. This key finding encouraged the team to study this particular protein in further detail. Specifically, they explored the protease levels within the supernatants.

The findings revealed that IBS supernatants presented a specific protein pattern, an IBS-specific enzyme (or protease) profile. After running an analysis of the entire family of enzymes (ie, proteome), the researchers were able to identify 204 proteins with a unique expression to IBS supernatants.

The results of this study could lead to improving our knowledge of the organic causes of IBS, as well as contribute to the development of new diagnostic tools for the disease, rather than relying on process of elimination. The identification of 204 proteins linked to IBS could also someday lead to new therapies for a condition that affects a significant number of people.