The livers of children and adults often react quite differently to therapeutic drugs, displaying radically dissimilar responses to the same pharmaceuticals for reasons that have remained mysterious.
[Photo: Dr. Julia Yue Cui, foreground, works in her University of Washington lab. Photo by Sarah Fish]
With a five-year commitment of $1.5 million from the National Institutes of Health, a University of Washington School of Public Health researcher will study whether some of the distinctions could stem from the trillions of bacteria that reside in the intestines and compose the gut microbiome.
“A lot of studies have focused on the direct metabolism of drugs by the bacteria themselves,” said Dr. Julia Yue Cui, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences. “It is less understood how the gut microbiome communicates with host factors in the liver.”
Host factors, such as proteins that turn genes on and off, can play a key role in determining how the liver copes with chemicals. Dr. Cui’s recent work revealed that the microbiome significantly alters how the liver regulates genes important to processing drugs, suggesting that a conversation of sorts occurs between the tiny bacterial tenants and their host.
She plans to follow up with an investigation into how the microbiome affects the liver during childhood development, and which bacteria living among the complex gut community most substantially affect the liver. This study might open the door to new therapeutic approaches – for example, clinicians may be able to alter the liver’s response to drugs by changing the composition of the microbiome through the use of targeted antibiotics or probiotics.