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Gut health can protect against catching the flu, study finds

A molecule naturally produced in the gut, indole-3-propionic acid (IPA), could help prevent and even treat influenza
A molecule naturally produced in the gut, indole-3-propionic acid (IPA), could help prevent and even treat influenza. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

A molecule naturally produced in the gut, indole-3-propionic acid (IPA), could help prevent and even treat influenza, according to a study published in Gut Microbes. Researchers from the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in São Paulo, Brazil, and Pasteur Institute in Lille, France, conducted the study.


Experiments with mice revealed that levels of IPA dropped during infection with the influenza virus H3N2. When the infected mice were given a synthetic version of IPA, their viral load and lung inflammation decreased significantly.


 
 

“These results are promising and suggest that IPA may in the future be used to help prevent or treat infections by influenza virus, which causes major epidemics. However, more research is needed to confirm the findings in humans and to understand how IPA works,” said Marco Vinolo, co-last author of the article and a professor at UNICAMP’s Institute of Biology.


The study was part of a project supported by FAPESP, led by Vinolo, focusing on the molecular mechanisms involved in the interaction between microbiota-derived metabolites and host cells during inflammation.


The research involved a series of experiments with mice conducted in France, led by François Trottein at Pasteur-Lille. The data was later analyzed at UNICAMP using bioinformatics tools, leading to further experiments with animals at Pasteur.


 
 

“We used three layers of data. The first was obtained by metagenomics, showing which bacteria were altered in the gut microbiota after seven days and 14 days of infection. All the DNA of these bacteria was analyzed, whereas this type of study normally analyzes only a piece of one gene that identifies the bacteria. Our analysis showed not only the species of bacteria but also the genes most present and their respective functions,” said Vinicius de Rezende Rodovalho, second author of the article. The study was conducted while he was a postdoctoral researcher at UNICAMP.


The other layers of data were obtained by metabolomics, detecting metabolites secreted by the gut microbiota and clinical markers of the disease such as viral load and inflammation.


 

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“We analyzed these datasets in an integrated manner, building a network of correlations that pointed to an important role for IPA. In further experiments conducted on this basis, we supplemented the animals with a synthetic version of the molecule produced in the laboratory and observed that IPA supplementation reduced viral load and inflammation. The findings suggest that IPA has significant potential as a biomarker of influenza resistance and a target for microbiome-based interventions to treat flu,” Vinolo explained.


 
 

The Role of IPA


IPA is produced by gut bacteria when they metabolize tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in whole grains like soybeans, wheat, corn, barley, rye, oats, and sunflower seeds, as well as in animal products such as fish, beef, pork, poultry, and dairy.



Previous research has shown that IPA supplementation can improve metabolic disorders by regulating blood sugar, increasing insulin sensitivity, and inhibiting lipid synthesis and inflammatory factors in the liver.


 
 

Other studies have suggested the potential role of tryptophan and IPA in energy balance and the cardiovascular system, as well as their potential use in preventing inflammation, obesity, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, neurodegenerative diseases, and osteoporosis.


In light of its potential to prevent and combat flu, the researchers have applied for a patent in the European Union for this use of IPA supplementation. Further studies leading to clinical trials are planned.


“We’re looking at the role of IPA during infection by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and the results have so far been similar. We also want to find out how it functions during bacterial infections. Few studies have been done on the link between gut microbiota and systemic resistance to antibiotics, and IPA’s involvement in this connection could also be a fruitful line of research,” Rodovalho said.


 
 

Extensive research is needed to confirm these findings in humans and to fully understand the mechanisms through which IPA operates. If proven effective, IPA could become a crucial element in preventing and treating not only influenza but possibly other viral and bacterial infections as well.


These exciting developments pave the way for future studies and potential clinical applications, bringing us closer to new and effective ways to combat infectious diseases.






For more science and technology stories check out our New Innovations section at The Brighter Side of News.


 

Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


 
 

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