Oxygen derived radicals contribute to tissue injury in inflammatory bowel disease. We measured the content of superoxide dismutase and metallothionein (two endogenous copper and zinc containing proteins involved in radical scavenging) in intestinal resection specimens from 29 patients with Crohn's disease and 12 patients with ulcerative colitis and compared the concentrations with those obtained in the normal mucosa of a control group of 18 patients with colorectal cancer. The superoxide dismutase content was similar in control mucosa and non-inflamed mucosa from patients with inflammatory bowel disease (mean (SEM) 2.13 (0.10) and 2.24 (0.10) mg/g protein, respectively) but was decreased in inflamed mucosa (1.87 (0.08) mg/g protein, p less than 0.005 v non-inflamed mucosa). The metallothionein content was decreased in non-inflamed inflammatory bowel disease mucosa compared with control mucosa (0.23 (0.03) and 0.36 (0.04) mg/g protein, respectively, p less than 0.02) and a further decrease was found in inflamed mucosa (0.17 (0.02) mg/g protein, p less than 0.001 v control mucosa). No differences were found between Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis and no significant effect of medication or tissue localisation was noted. These findings might indicate a decreased endogenous intestinal protection against oxygen derived radicals in inflammatory bowel disease which could contribute to the pathogenesis of the disease.
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