Explaining Digestion Problems In Cystic Fibrosis

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Scientists at the University of Liverpool have discovered that pressure in the pancreas can inhibit normal enzyme secretion leading to poor digestion in cystic fibrosis patients.

The team found that a build up of pressure in the pancreas – common in Cystic Fibrosis patients – leads to activation of digestive enzymes within cells called acinar cells, which make up most of the pancreas. The enzymes – that would normally be secreted out of the cells in response to a signal from the hormone, cholecystokinin (CCK) – start to destroy the cells from the inside instead.

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Cystic fibrosis causes the body to produce abnormally thick and sticky mucus in the lungs and pancreas, leading to breathing difficulties and digestion problems. Duct cells in the pancreas normally secrete a fluid to wash out the digestive enzymes into the gut, where these enzymes break down food. The lack of fluid secretion in cystic fibrosis, however, inhibits this process and so enzymes become stuck in the ducts of the pancreas, often leading to digestive problems.

Professor Ole Petersen, from the University’s School of Biomedical Sciences, explains: “Cystic Fibrosis patients have reduced pancreatic fluid secretion. Pancreatic ducts, therefore, get blocked with ‘sticky’ enzymes that lead to increased pressure on the acinar cells. The digestive enzymes are activated inside these cells and begin to digest them. Because of the absence of enzyme secretion from the destroyed acinar cells there is insufficient digestion of food in the gut.

“This finding highlights the importance of adequate fluid secretion. Scientists must now aim to find a way of stimulating fluid secretion in cystic fibrosis patients to prevent poor digestion and malnutrition.”

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