Scientists have discovered hormone receptors in mouse cells that may stimulate the growth of fibrosis—the thickening and scarring of tissue that damages the intestines of many people with Crohn’s disease. Although preliminary, the finding may provide a new target for drugs that could potentially help treat such debilitating complications.

In humans, fibrosis occurs as a response to chronic inflammation; it is a common side effect of conditions such as liver cirrhosis, kidney disease, and heart attacks. (It also occurs, to a lesser extent, during normal aging.) For patients with Crohn’s disease—a type of inflammatory bowel disease—surgery is often needed to remove or repair parts of the intestines that have been damaged by fibrosis.