Chemotherapy: When our intestinal bacteria provide reinforcement

Credit: Fotolia/Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale

Research jointly conducted by investigators at Institut Gustave Roussy, Inserm, Institut Pasteur and INRA (French National Agronomic Research Institute) has led to a rather surprising discovery on the manner in which cancer chemotherapy treatments act more effectively with the help of the intestinal flora (also known as the intestinal microbiota).

Indeed, the researchers have just shown that the efficacy of one of the molecules most often used in chemotherapy relies to an extent on its capacity to mobilise certain from the intestinal flora toward the bloodstream and . Once inside the lymph nodes, these bacteria stimulate fresh immune defences which then enhance the body's ability to fight the malignant tumour.

Results of this work are published in the journal Science on 22 November 2013.

The intestinal microbiota is made up of 100,000 billion bacteria. It is a genuine organ, since the that comprise it carry out functions crucial to our health, such as the elimination of substances that are foreign to the body (and potentially toxic), or keeping the pathogens that contaminate us at bay. They also ensure the degradation of ingested food, for better intestinal absorption and optimal metabolism. These millions of bacteria colonise the intestine from birth, and play a key role in the maturation of the immune defences.

However, the bacterial species that make up the intestinal microbiota vary from one individual to another, and the presence or absence of one or another bacterial species seems to influence the occurrence of some diseases, or, conversely, may protect us.

In the cancer area, the French team directed by Prof Laurence Zitvogel, Director of Inserm Unit 1015, "Tumour Immunology and Immunotherapy," at Institut Gustave Roussy, in close collaboration with Institut Pasteur (Dr Ivo Gomperts Boneca, "Biology and Genetics of the Bacterial Cell Wall" Unit) and researchers at INRA (Drs Patricia Lepage and Joël Doré, Micalis Unit, "Food Microbiology in the Service of Health"), has just provided evidence that the stimulates an individual's immune responses to combat cancer during chemotherapy.

Cyclophosphamide is one of the most widely used drugs in chemotherapy. However, like any treatment, it involves side effects (inflammation of the mucosa etc.), and disrupts the normal balance of the intestinal microbiota. Certain bacteria (of the Gram+ group of bacteria) can pass the intestinal barrier and enter the bloodstream and lymph nodes.

These bacteria, once in the general circulation of the body, may be considered harmful, and the body generates an .

"This chain reaction, a side effect of the treatment, actually turns out to be very useful," explains Laurence Zitvogel. "Surprisingly, the immune response directed against these bacteria helps the patient to better fight his/her tumour, by stimulating fresh immune defence mechanisms."

More specifically, immunisation against bacteria leads to the recruitment of effector lymphocytes different to those mobilised by chemotherapy. Their role consists of helping anti-tumour lymphocytes to stem the growth of tumours.

To verify these observations in mice, researchers suppressed all Gram+ bacteria from their intestinal microbiota. Results showed that the efficacy of the chemotherapy was reduced. The researchers also suggest that some antibiotics used during chemotherapy may destroy these Gram+ bacteria, and thus negate their beneficial effect.

"Now that these "beneficial" bacteria that potentiate the anti-tumour immune response have been identified, we should soon succeed in supplying more to the body, especially via pro- or prebiotics and/or a specific diet," the researcher concludes.

More information: Science, November 2013 dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1240537

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Intestinal bacteria influence food transit through the gut

Nov 21, 2013

Food transit through the small intestine affects the body's absorption of nutrients and, consequently, our health. The discovery that food transit time is regulated by a hormone indicates new ways to increase the intestinal ...

Recommended for you

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

Apr 18, 2014

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

New pain relief targets discovered

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have identified new pain relief targets that could be used to provide relief from chemotherapy-induced pain. BBSRC-funded researchers at King's College London made the discovery when researching ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JRi
not rated yet Dec 31, 2013
I'm currently going through CHOP chemotherapy. Read this article, and been eating yoghurt daily ever since (rich of gram+ lactobacillus). After the 3rd therapy session (out of 6), my lymphoma has showed excellent respond to CHOP, as shown in x-ray CT. So needless to say, I will continue eating lots of yoghurt!