The gut epithelium is covered by mucus consisting of mucin polymers connected via disulfide bonds. The mucus layer limits exposure of epithelial cells to toxins and bacteria. A recent study has shown that sulfide, produced by certain bacteria, reduces disulfide bonds in the mucus network. The resulting breaks in the mucus barrier allow exposure of the epithelium to bacteria and toxins, causing inflammation. In this opinion article we argue that this mechanism may be involved in the etiology and/or severity of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) because IBD is associated with decreased mucus barrier function, altered microbial species, and increased sulfide concentrations. Increasing the mucus integrity by reducing sulfide concentrations in the intestine may be a novel therapeutic option for IBD.
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