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Curbing the scourge of deadly diarrhea

Medicine@Yale, 2006 - July Aug

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The human body favors balance. Too much of one thing or too little of another often tips the scales toward ill effects. So it is with the devastating diarrhea seen in V. cholera and E. coli infection. Toxins produced by these bacteria force cells in the intestine to secrete water and salts at rates faster than the cells can reabsorb them, leading to severe dehydration that kills millions of children each year.

In the June 20 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, John P. Geibel, M.D., professor of surgery, Steven C. Hebert, M.D., C.N.H. Long Professor and chair of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, and colleagues report that switching on a specific calcium-sensing receptor protein on the surface of intestinal cells with a jolt of calcium or with agents that modulate the receptor blocks fluid loss and enhances absorption.

According to Geibel and Hebert, stimulating the receptor destroys cellular signaling molecules triggered by bacterial toxins, and “development of specific agents to target this intestinal receptor could provide a new approach for treating life-threatening diarrhea.”