O-glycan Sugars Play Vital Role in Colitis, Colon Cancer

The absence of O-glycan sugars led to colitis and colon cancer in mouse models.

In a recent study, researchers found certain sugars produced by the body have a significant role in the development of colitis and colon cancer.

These sugars, O-glycans, compose approximately 80% of a thick mucus layer inside the colon and gastrointestinal tract, according to studies published by Gastroenterology and Mucosal Immunology.

"Colorectal cancers pose a significant healthcare problem and are the third most common cancers for both men and women in the US," said lead researcher Lijun Xia, MD, PhD. "But in order to solve this problem, we first have to know the cause. In this case, we think we have found a key to this."

In the study, researchers genetically modified mice so their bodies did not produce O-glycan sugars.

It was observed that the mucus layer disappeared and the mice developed colitis. Additionally, as the mice aged, they developed colitis-associated cancer.

"First, these findings tell us that this mucus made up of O-glycan sugars is essential for preventing the development of colitis and colon cancer," Dr Xia said. "When we deleted the sugar, colitis developed. That makes it essential in prevention."

The findings help to create a model that can boost the understanding of colorectal disease and further test and develop potential therapies, according to the study.

"For studying colitis and colon cancer, the experimental models have been artificial until now," Dr Xia said. "By deleting these type of sugar structures, the mice are now forming spontaneous colitis and colitis-associated colon cancer, which is exactly how the disease would occur in humans."

Researchers are working on developing therapies to restore the injured mucus layer and mend the sugars to treat colitis and prevent cancer.

"Once you have a tumor, it can often be too late," Dr Xia concluded. "Our discovery indicates that if we prevent or control colitis, we'll likely prevent that tumor from ever forming. That's significant."