Skip to content

Pathway to better eye health runs through the gut

Ocular inflammation research from OHSU targets gastrointestinal microbes.
December 21, 2021
Phoebe Lin, MD, PhD, in the laboratory

Image credit: Oregon Health Sciences University

Chronic noninfectious uveitis is a form of eye inflammation that, if left untreated, leads to vision loss and even blindness. Current treatments use broad anti-inflammatory medications such as corticosteroids that can cause serious side effects such as cataracts and glaucoma, explains Phoebe Lin, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of ophthalmology in Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Medicine and a physician-scientist at the OHSU Casey Eye Institute.

Lin says that limited safe and effective treatments for patients with this form of eye inflammation drives her research.

“I’m asking the questions my patients inspire me to ask, designing experiments to answer those questions and testing them in my lab,” she said.

Research from Lin’s lab has firmly established a gut-eye association in animal models. Studies in mice have demonstrated that severity of inflammation from uveitis is partially related to a reduction in regulatory T cells – called Tregs – in the gut. Normally, Tregs help prevent inflammation.

Lin and colleagues found that certain interventions, such as giving mice a dose of organic compounds known as short-chain fatty acids or a dose of oral antibiotics, could enhance the number of Tregs in the gut as well as alter intestinal permeability and structure. All of these changes were also associated with decreased eye inflammation.