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May 31, 2023

Scientists identify a readily available herbicide which might lead to IBD

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Brought to you by Cosmos Magazine and The Echo

The herbicide propyzamide has been found to disrupt an anti-inflammatory pathway in the gut.

A new study in Nature has identified an environmental chemical agent that might promote gastrointestinal inflammation or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Herbicides with the active ingredient propyzamide, which is the subject of the research, are available in Australia.

The report says propyzamide may boost inflammation in the small and large intestine by disrupting an anti-inflammatory pathway.

Inflammatory bowel disease is a term for two conditions – Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis – which are complex chronic inflammatory disorders of the gastrointestinal tract.

Research has shown that there are about 200 genetic loci associated with the disease, but less is known about the specific environmental factors that influence the risk and severity of IBD.

Now, the Nature study has systematically identified environmental chemical agents that promote gastrointestinal inflammation, and specifically identified a common herbicide called propyzamide, that may boost inflammation in the small and large intestine by disrupting an anti-inflammatory pathway.

Senior author Francisco Quintana, a neurology professor at the Centre for Neurologic Diseases at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the US, says environmental factors are known to be important in influencing autoimmune and inflammatory disease.

Herbicides with the active ingredient propyzamide have been linked to IBS. Photo Cosmos Magazine

Propyzamide is widely used to control certain grasses and broad-leaf weeds in sports fields, crops and pastures. It’s used in Australia under various brand names.

And research has shown that about 60% of the chemical remains unmetabolised by the plant 50 days after its application.

With a series of cell-culture, zebrafish, and mouse experiments, they were able to show that propyzamide interferes with the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR), a protein that’s involved in immune regulation.

In the study, researchers found that AHR maintains gut homeostasis by suppressing a second, pro-inflammatory pathway that had previously been shown to be genetically linked with IBD.

“Our methodology allowed us to identify a chemical that disrupts one of the body’s natural ‘brakes’ on inflammation,” Quintana says.

The team is now working to target this inflammatory pathway by engineering nanoparticles and probiotics to activate AHR.

“The anti-inflammatory AHR pathway we identified could be strengthened to ameliorate disease, and, further down the road, we could also investigate additional ways to deactivate the pro-inflammatory response,” says Quintana. “As we learn more about the environmental factors that might contribute to disease, we can develop strategies to limit exposures.

“Some chemicals don’t seem to be toxic when tested under basic conditions, but we do not yet know about the effect of chronic, low-level exposures over decades, or early-on in development.”

Cosmos has not yet contacted any distributors of propyzamide-based products for comment.

This article was originally published on Cosmos Magazine and was written by Cosmos. Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

Published by The Echo in conjunction with Cosmos Magazine.

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  1. On the subject of chemicals , a link has been found between glyphosate aka roundup and zero and non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Many councils are ceasing the use of these products. Also the above mentioned weed killers have been banned in several European countries.

    • Monsanto was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons with the glyphosate.
      It is seemingly a story that gets replayed over and over again of Big Chem coming along with a ‘wonder product’ – eg, DDT, Agent Orange, Teflon, Glyphosate – that ain’t so wonderful afterall.


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