The gut microbiota: a puppet master in the pathogenesis of endometriosis?

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Abstract

Endometriosis is a frequent gynecologic disease with a complex, multifactorial cause. It is characterized by the cyclic estrogen-driven proliferation and bleeding of endometriotic lesions (ie, ectopic endometrial glands and stroma) outside the uterus. These lesions induce a chronic activation of the innate immune system within the peritoneal cavity that is associated with the release of various inflammatory cytokines and angiogenic growth factors into the peritoneal fluid. This stimulates angiogenesis and the further spread of the lesions and triggers the typical pain that is symptomatic of the disease. Moreover, circulating stem and progenitor cells are recruited into the ectopic endometrial tissue and contribute to its growth and vascularization. In recent years, an increasing number of studies have indicated that the gut microbiota is not only essential for a physiologic gastrointestinal function but acts as a central regulator of a variety of inflammatory and proliferative conditions. Besides, the gut flora affects estrogen metabolism and stem-cell homeostasis. Based on these findings, we hypothesize that the gut microbiota may be involved crucially in the onset and progression of endometriosis. In the future, this novel view of the pathogenesis of endometriosis may be verified by analysis of the development of endometriotic lesions in animal models with a defined composition of the gut microbiota and by investigation of the microbiota of patients with endometriosis with modern next-generation sequencing tools. This could open the door for completely new preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic approaches for endometriosis.

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