Fasting activates a genetic switch that helps prevent bacterial invasion in the gut, lessening inflammation
While fasting may not be appropriate for everyone, periodic fasting has gained a great deal more attention lately, as research suggests it could help with a range of issues. New research now suggests that under fasting conditions a gene called Ctrc is flicked on, controlling gut defences and reducing unnecessary immune activation.
"Fasting has a positive value that spills over not just into the metabolic system, but also inflammation and brain function. Understanding how the gut maintains this barrier, and creating drugs to enhance that barrier, may have important benefits for people with inflammatory bowel disease"
Using fruit flies as a model, researchers had previously noted that flies missing the Ctrc gene survived for about half the time others did when fasting. When they looked closer, they discovered the Ctrc switch was apparently an important immune modulator. Flies with a Ctrc knockout curiously had increased immune activity around their gut.
What does this mean?
Microbes are extremely useful, and when they're tightly controlled and kept where they need to be they do a wonderful job at digesting foods for us. When our ability to control them declines however, they can quickly turn into a menace. The flies seemed to die faster because immune activation was exhausting their energy supplies quicker. Ctrc was preventing bacteria from leaking through the gut, and therefore blocking an immune response too. Without Ctrc, the connections between gut cells were dysfunctional and did a poor job at keeping bacteria hemmed in the gut.
A connection to the brain
The team also found that Ctrc partners with a short neuropeptide F (sNPF) in the flies' brain, which is activated in the hunger response. Its human equivalent is called neuropeptide Y. When flies were missing sNPF, they also displayed inflammation and reduced gut function. Furthermore, flies that overexpressed both Ctrc and sNPF lived for longer without food and had an improved gut barrier too. Interesting, Ctrc also appears to affect another protein called CREB, which plays a role in long term memory formation. These results suggests that at least in some animals, fasting likely helps shore up gut defences which lowers inflammatory activity, and could potentially help brain function too.
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