Objectives: Reports about the association between Crohn's disease (CD) and cell wall-deficient (CWD) forms of Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (M. paratuberculosis) are controversial. This may be due to the heterogeneous nature of CD where only about 50% of the patients show granulomatous inflammation. Detection of CWD forms of M. paratuberculosis in tissues from patients with CD would support its association with the disease. To help identify these forms in inflamed tissues, a previously developed and optimized nonradioactive in situ hybridization method was applied on well-defined tissue materials obtained from patients with CD, ulcerative colitis (UC), and controls.
Methods: Specimens from 37 patients with CD (15 with epitheloid cell granulomas and 22 without granulomas), 21 UC, and 22 noninflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients were analyzed by the in situ hybridization method based on the digoxigenin-labeled M. paratuberculosis IS900 fragment, previously shown to be species specific. Samples were counterstained with hematoxylin and eosin to show the location of the positive signal. Positive controls made of beef cubes injected with CWD and acid-fast M. paratuberculosis and negative controls were included in each experiment to monitor for nonspecific hybridization or staining.
Results: Six of 15 (40%) patients with CD and granulomas showed positive signals in myofibroblasts and macrophages. Interestingly, no positive signals were observed within granulomas. Only 4.5% of 22 CD samples from patients with nongranulomatous disease, 9.5% of 21 UC, and remarkably, none of the 22 non-IBD patients were M. paratuberculosis positive.
Conclusion: The demonstration of DNA from CWD forms of M. paratuberculosis in this limited number of CD tissues further supports and confirms previous reports of its association with the granulomatous type of the disease.