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Gut Microbiome Translates Stress Into Sickle Cell Crises

A new study shows how chronic psychological stress leads to painful vessel-clogging episodes—the most common complication of sickle-cell disease (SCD) and a frequent cause of hospitalizations. The findings, made in mice, show that the gut microbiome plays a key role in triggering those episodes and reveals possible ways to prevent them. The research was conducted by scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

People with SCD have inherited a gene mutation that leads to abnormal hemoglobin, causing red cells (which contain hemoglobin) to take on a sickle shape and become less flexible. The sickled red cells tend to clog small vessels, impeding blood flow, and preventing oxygen from reaching tissues. This can result in painful and debilitating vaso-occlusive episodes, or VOE, which can last for days.