The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, said the protein -- p40 -- was effective as an intervention in animal models of colitis, or colon inflammation because the protein supports intestinal epithelial cell growth and function, and reduces inflammatory responses that can cause intestinal cells to die.
Dr. Fang Yan of Vanderbilt University Medical Center said the oral consumption of p40 by mice prevented and treated colitis in multiple models of the disease.
Many of the hundreds of bacterial species that live in the gut help digest certain substances, produce vitamins and fight off more dangerous bacteria, but miscommunication between the bacteria and the gut lining can lead to ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, Yan said.
Yan and colleagues showed that p40 activates the epidermal growth factor receptor, a protein critical for cell survival and growth by preventing both apoptosis and inflammation-induced disruption of the "tight junctions" between epithelial cells, which forms a barrier to keep toxic substances and pathogens out of the bloodstream.
In three different mouse models of intestinal inflammation, the researchers showed that p40 prevented and treated intestinal injury and acute colitis, the study said.