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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis, Crohn's disease and the Doomsday scenario

John Hermon-Taylor

Author Affiliations

Division of Nutritional Sciences, Franklin-Wilkins Building, King's College London, 150 Stamford Street, London, SE1 9NH, UK

Gut Pathogens 2009, 1:15  doi:10.1186/1757-4749-1-15

Published: 14 July 2009

Abstract

Johne's disease is chronic inflammation of the intestine caused by Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis. Infection and disease are mainly in domestic livestock but can affect many species including primates. Johne's is a new disease which emerged at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and principally involved Europe and North America. It has since spread to former low incidence regions to become a global problem. Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammation of the intestine in humans which emerged in Europe and North America mid 20th century and increased to become a major healthcare problem. It has now spread to former low incidence regions. Infected animals shed Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis in milk and into the environment. Human populations are widely exposed. Outcomes maybe influenced by microbial phenotype. Exposure to extracellular forms of these pathogens may confer some natural protection; exposure to intracellular forms which have passaged through milk macrophages or environmental protists may pose a greater threat to humans particularly individuals with an inherited or acquired susceptibility. Hot spots of human disease such as in Winnipeg which sits on rock at the junction of two rivers may result from local exposure to high levels of waterborne pathogens brought down from farmland. When appropriate methods are used most people with Crohn's disease are found to be infected. There are no data which demonstrate that these pathogens are harmless to humans. An overwhelming balance of probability and Public health risk favours the conclusion that Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis is also pathogenic for people. A two tier co-operative pathogenic mechanism is proposed in Crohn's disease. Intracellular infection with the primary pathogen widely distributed throughout the gut causes an immune dysregulation and a specific chronic enteric neuropathy with loss of mucosal integrity. Segments of gross inflammatory disease result from the perturbed neuroimmune response to penetration into the gut wall of secondary pathogens from the lumen. These include both normal gut organisms and educated members of the enteric microbiome such as more aggressive E. coli. More new diseases may arise from failure to apply a range of remedial measures to this longstanding zoonotic problem.