. This work has recently been published in the leading international journal
“Many people suffer from digestive issues on a daily basis, such as chronic constipation, however we still don’t understand the cause which underlies most of them,” says Lauren Jones, lead author and final year PhD student in the College of Medicine and Public Health.
“Our research identified Piezo2 in cells that line the human digestive tract, allowing them to sense physical stimuli, such as touch or pressure, that would occur when food is present. The cells then respond by releasing serotonin to stimulate gut contractions and push the food along.”
Last year, international researchers Artem Padaputian and David Julius were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research into receptors responsible for the sense of touch and temperature, including the discovery of Piezo2, now it is our responsibility to feel the light touch on our skin.
Of potential clinical significance, the Flinders study team found that levels of Piezo2 decreased in the gut with age, and if only the protein was removed from the cells of the gut serotonin, intestinal motility decreased and constipation occurred.
The authors say that this could be a potential contributing factor to age-related constipation and provide a possible path to treatment.
“Age-related constipation affects 1 in 2 adults over the age of 80, whilst constipation generally affects almost everyone at some point throughout their life,” says Ms. Jones.
“It’s therefore extremely important we increase our understanding of the underlying mechanisms, so that we can find targeted solutions to improve the quality of life of the many people who suffer daily from various gut disorders, including constipation.”
“This research provides the building blocks for both further research and the development of highly specific treatments to reduce the impacts of constipation.”
Although more research is needed to systematically link Piezo2 to constipation, the authors say the overall research is a significant improvement in our understanding of intestinal physiology, which opens up new goals for treating digestive problems.
“More specifically, we now have the potential to create treatments that are taken orally and only directly impact these cells that line the gut, therefore significantly reducing side effects typically seen with many of the current medications,” says Ms. Jones.
Diminished Piezo2-dependent tactile sensitivity occurs in aging human gut and slows gastrointestinal transit in mice by Lauren A. Jones, Byungchang Jin, Alyce M. Martin, Lai Wei, the Flinders Gastrointestinal Consortium, Seungil Ro and Damien J. Keating is published in the journal Gastroenterology. The research was supported by an Australian Research Council grant to Professor Keating.
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