Background: The breakdown of glycosaminoglycans is an important consequence of inflammation at mucosal surfaces, and inhibition of metalloprotease activity may be effective in treating chronic inflammation.
Aim: To report an alternative approach, using the nutriceutical agent N-acetyl glucosamine (GlcNAc), an amino-sugar directly incorporated into glycosaminoglycans and glycoproteins, as a substrate for tissue repair mechanisms.
Methods: GlcNAc (total daily dose 3-6 g) was administered orally as adjunct therapy to 12 children with severe treatment-resistant inflammatory bowel disease (10 Crohn's disease, 2 ulcerative colitis). Seven of these children suffered from symptomatic strictures. In addition, similar doses were administered rectally as sole therapy in nine children with distal ulcerative colitis or proctitis resistant to steroids and antibiotics. Where pre- and post-treatment biopsies were available (nine cases), histochemical assessment of epithelial and matrix glycosaminoglycans and GlcNAc residues was made.
Findings: Eight of the children given oral GlcNAc showed clear improvement, while four required resection. Of the children with symptomatic Crohn's stricture, only 3 of 7 have required surgery over a mean follow-up of > 2.5 years, and endoscopic or radiological improvement was detected in the others. Rectal administration induced remission in two cases, clear improvement in three and no effect in two. In all cases biopsied there was evidence of histological improvement, and a significant increase in epithelial and lamina propria glycosaminoglycans and intracellular GlcNAc.
Conclusions: GlcNAc shows promise as an inexpensive and nontoxic treatment in chronic inflammatory bowel disease, with a mode of action which is distinct from conventional treatments. It may have the potential to be helpful in stricturing disease. However, controlled trials and an assessment of enteric-release preparations are required to confirm its efficacy and establish indications for use.