To investigate the hidden link between the intestinal microbiota and the heart, scientists from Tufts University in Medford (USA) this year have claimed how, in case of heart failure, removing the intestinal microbiota of the experimental animal could improve the functioning of the heart and reduce the extent of heart damage.
The results of the research were presented during the conference: “2018 Experimental Biology meeting”, which was held in San Diego last April. We talked about this topic with Dr. Maddalena Lettino, cardiologist at Humanitas.
Intestinal bacteria and immune cells
The bacteria present in the gastrointestinal system would be able to increase the production of immune T cells, which in patients with heart failure infiltrate the heart causing inflammation and further worsening the medical conditions of patients with heart problems.
“Since the intestine is the largest reservoir of T cells and bacteria in the body – explained Francisco J. Carrillo-Salinas, head of research – by modifying the microbiota we could modulate the activation of T cells and changes in the heart that lead to heart failure.
By administering the rat with a cocktail of broad-spectrum antibiotics for five weeks, the researchers completely eliminated the bacteria in the intestine and demonstrated that the heart’s ability to pump the blood that had been treated in this way was significantly better than that of rats that had not received any sterilizing treatment. Similarly, the heart tissue was less damaged.
“The complete sterilization of the intestine has improved some experimental models of T-cell-mediated diseases and our results confirm our initial hypothesis – observed Dr. Carrillo-Salinas. It is surprising to see that cardiac function is completely preserved. Now we must check what happens in the heart after new different bacteria recolonize the intestine”.
T cells activated by lymph nodes close to the heart
According to experts, understanding how the intestinal microbiota affects distant organs such as the heart will encourage the development of new therapeutic approaches to prevent the worsening of the condition of patients who have recently been diagnosed with heart failure. The results also lay the groundwork for further studies to determine which components of the microbiota may be more implicated than others in this context.
The opinion of Humanitas
“Although promising, the study is at a very preliminary stage of research in this area – said Lettino. A significant group of experiments must still be carried out on the animal, before we can think of man and therefore it is premature to express any judgment. Needless to say, any new research that helps us in the future to understand the origin of heart disease that for now we still call “idiopathic” because we do not know the cause, can only be a great acquisition for medical science and a promise for patients”.
“There have already been attempts at antibiotic therapy for heart diseases caused by atherosclerosis without success – continued the specialist talking about the therapeutic implications of the study. I do not see any therapeutic application on the basis of these results. However, I am convinced that a better understanding of the origin and development of cardiovascular diseases is the ideal condition to treat them effectively and to defeat events and early cardiovascular mortality. However, let’s give researchers time to find solutions closer to the real world.