Mycobacterium Avium Paratuberculosis and the Etiology of Crohn’s Disease: A Review of the Controversy from the Clinician’s Perspective
Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP) is an obligate intracellular organism that has frequently been associated with Crohn’s disease (CD). Because CD is a chronic inflammatory condition, many researchers have speculated that an infectious agent must be the cause of CD. MAP has often been proposed to be one such agent; however, despite considerable research, the evidence remains inconclusive. Higher levels of MAP have been found in the tissues and blood of CD patients than in controls, forming the foundation for much of the research into the role of MAP in CD and the primary argument in support of a causative role for MAP in CD. MAP is a slow-growing and fastidious organism that is difficult to grow in culture and, therefore, challenging to detect in patients. As a result, there has been variability in the results of studies attempting to detect the presence of MAP in CD patients, and considerable controversy over whether this organism has a causative role in the etiology of CD. Two main hypotheses exist with respect to the role of MAP in CD. The first is that MAP is a principal cause of CD, while the second is that MAP is more prevalent because of the immune dysfunction seen in CD but does not play a causative role. Clinicians are often faced with questions regarding the role of this organism and the need to treat it. The present article attempts to provide an overview of the controversy including the nature of the mycobacterium, the difficulty in detecting it, the use of antimycobacterial agents to treat it and the effect of immunosuppressive agents – all from a clinician’s perspective. Although the role of MAP in CD remains controversial and an area of considerable research, it is currently only of academic interest because there is no clinically useful test to identify the presence of the organism, and no evidence to support the use of antibiotics to eradicate it for the treatment of CD.