There is a new food poisoning treatment on the horizon. Scientists are looking at the antidepressant medications like Prozac as a treatment for E.coli infections. There are approximately 265,000 cases a year of food poisoning caused by E.coli. 36 percent of these cases are caused by a particular strain of E.coli known as O157, and is the most dangerous. It produces a toxin called Shiga which can cause kidney failure and even death. Since antibiotics may make the infection worse by increasing complications, researchers have been looking for alternative treatments. Scientists at the University of Texas and Kansas State University have recently released findings that drugs that boost serotonin may offer a new treatment. “Treating bacterial infections, especially in the gut, can be very difficult,” says Vanessa Sperandio, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology and biochemistry at UT Southwestern Medical Center and senior author of the new study. “If we could repurpose Prozac or other drugs in the same class, it could give us a new weapon to fight these challenging infections,” she continues.
Serotonin is the chemical nerve cells use to communicate between each other. It’s found all throughout the nervous system, but 95 percent is in the body’s digestive system where it controls bowel movement and appetite. When the researchers exposed E.coli O157 to serotonin in a petri dish, they discovered it reduced the ability of the bacteria to cause infection. They also found E.coli exposed to serotonin was less able to cause damage to human cells. Mice infected with E.coli and given serotonin had milder infections and fewer deaths.
Researchers are hopeful the finding will lead to new treatments for E.coli infections as well as others. Since Salmonella, Yersinia, and Shigella also have the same serotonin receptors, they too could potentially be shut down with serotonin boosting medications.