In spite of expanding knowledge of cellular and molecular mechanisms of intestinal inflammation, the etiology and pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) remain obscure. The link between the environment and IBD is still circumstantial, but definite progress is occurring in defining genetic susceptibility loci for Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). The notion that normal enteric flora play a role in initiating or maintaining IBD is gaining momentum. Some components of the flora may act as noxious agents, whereas others (probiotics) seem to have a protective effect. The importance of the mucosal immune system to IBD is established, and evidence is accumulating that nonimmune components, such as epithelial, mesenchymal, and endothelial cells, also contribute to gut inflammation. The effect of cytokines in intestinal immunity is being elucidated by studies on their molecular mechanism, particularly the activation of nuclear factor (NF)-κB. Finally, the beneficial effects of cytoprotective prostaglandins and cell adhesion molecule (CAM) blockade promise novel therapeutic opportunities derived from an improved understanding of IBD pathogenesis.
Division of Gastroenterology, University Hospitals of Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Correspondence to C. Fiocchi, Division of Gastroenterology, University Hospitals of Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106-4952, USA