Background: The early molecular changes preceding the onset of mucosal inflammation in colitis and their temporal relationship with gut permeability remain poorly defined. This study investigated functional and transcriptomic changes in mdr1a(-/-) mice lacking the intestinal transporter P-glycoprotein, which develop colitis spontaneously when exposed to normal enteric flora.
Methods: Mdr1a(-/-) mice were housed in specific pathogen-free conditions to slow colitis development and compared to congenic controls. Mucosal permeability and cytokine secretion were analyzed in ex vivo colon. Gene expression in colonic mucosal and epithelial preparations was analyzed by microarray and qPCR. Colonocyte responsiveness to bacterial antigens was measured in short-term culture.
Results: Colon from 4-5-week-old, disease-free mdr1a(-/-) mice was histologically normal with no evidence of increased permeability compared to controls. However, these tissues display a distinctive pattern of gene expression involving significant changes in a small number of genes. The majority of upregulated genes were associated with bacterial recognition and the ubiquitin-proteasome system and were gamma-interferon (IFN-γ) responsive. Expression of the antiinflammatory factor pancreatitis-associated protein (PAP) and the related gene RegIIIγ were markedly reduced. Colonocytes from 4-5-week mdr1a(-/-) exhibit similar transcriptomic changes, accompanied by higher basal chemokine secretion and increased responsiveness to LPS. Significant increases in colonic permeability were associated with older (12-16-week) mdr1a(-/-) mice displaying molecular and functional evidence of active inflammation.
Conclusions: These studies show that early epithelial changes associated with altered responsiveness to bacteria precede increased permeability and mucosal inflammation in this model of colitis, highlighting the importance of P-glycoprotein in regulating interactions with the commensal microflora.