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Paratuberculosis and Crohn's Disease: Got Milk?
by Michael Greger, MD
http://www.veganMD.org
Updated January 2001

Spheroplasts

Paratuberculosis bacteria seem to cause disease in almost every species of animal so far studied.[75] It's reasonable to assume the same might happen in humans. ParaTB causes a specific chronic inflammation of the intestines of cattle, sheep, deer, rabbits, baboons, and three other species of primates.[115] The problem for Dalziel was that he couldn't visualize the bug microscopically in the surgically resected intestines of patients with Crohn's.[61]

While one can easily pick out MAP in most cases of Johne's disease with a simple light microscope, to this day attempts to stain and view MAP in Crohn's disease has been largely unsuccessful.[4] The landmark of most mycobacterial infections is the presence of acid-fast bacilli, so called because the mycobacterial cell wall soaks up and retains a particular acid stain.[27] Although failure to see acid-fast bacilli in general is not uncommon,[24] in the intestines of Johne's disease infected cattle, one can see swarms of acid-fast bacilli; in Crohn's there are none. The mystery wasn't solved until 1984, when Rodrick Chiodini, a microbiologist at Brown University's Rhode Island Hospital published a landmark study in which he actually cultured live paraTB germs from the gut walls of children with Crohn's disease.[23]

It has now been well established that paratuberculosis (and some other mycobacteria[186]) can shed their cell walls and exist as what has been termed "cell wall deficient" or "spheroplast" forms. Since it's the cell wall that picks up the stain, this form of the bacteria cannot be detected using the acid-fast stain test.[23] The bug, however, can then reform its cell wall even years later and revert back to its normal stainable self, which is what happened in Chiodini's lab.[65] It is thought that this cell wall deficient form is responsible for triggering the abnormal immune response which leads to Crohn's disease.[45]

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