A person's genetics contribute to an 'unhealthy gut' which is linked to type 1 diabetes, an Australian study has found.
Treatments targeting the gut could potentially help treat and even prevent type 1 diabetes in the future, Australian researchers say.
Previous research has shown the gut microbiota - the population of bacteria living in the intestine - is different in people with the autoimmune disease, however the reason for this has been unknown.
Researchers at the University of Queensland have now discovered genetics plays a role in the development of this 'unhealthy gut' among type 1 diabetes patients.
"We showed that genetic susceptibility and change in immune system function led to alterations in the microbiota," lead investigator Emma Hamilton-Williams said.
"This means that changes in the microbiota in type 1 diabetes occur before symptoms develop, and are not just a side-effect of the disease," she explained.
The study, published in journal Microbiome, involved mouse models and a large human study of twins in the UK.
In the mice, analysis of faecal samples found specific genetic variants were associated with the immune system's response to the disease.
"We show it's some of the immune genes changing the T-cells," Dr Hamilton-Williams said.
It was then showed that an immunotherapy targeting T-cells associated with type 1 diabetes resulted in "dramatic" changes in the gut biology and altered the microbiota in mice.
Dr Hamilton-Williams - a senior research fellow at UoQ - says the findings suggest that looking at therapies to fix the microbiota might be important.
"Therapies targeting the microbiota could therefore have the potential to help prevent type 1 diabetes in the future," Dr Hamilton-Williams said.
"We haven't shown that change in the microbiota will protect them but its a promising lead," she added.
Researchers will now examine clinical trials of immunotherapies to determine if the microbiota changed in people who responded positively to treatment.