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The Mechanism of Excessive Intestinal Inflammation in Necrotizing Enterocolitis: An Immature Innate Immune Response

Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017776
  • Research Article
  • Biology
  • Anatomy And Physiology
  • Physiological Processes
  • Biochemistry
  • Biotechnology
  • Applied Microbiology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Genetics
  • Gene Expression
  • Immunology
  • Immunity
  • Inflammation
  • Innate Immunity
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Cell Biology
  • Medicine
  • Clinical Immunology
  • Gastroenterology And Hepatology
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Gastrointestinal Motility Disorders
  • Small Intestine
  • Pediatrics
  • Neonatalology
  • Pediatric Gastroenterology
  • Biology
  • Medicine


Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a devastating neonatal intestinal inflammatory disease, occurring primarily in premature infants, causing significant morbidity and mortality. The pathogenesis of NEC is associated with an excessive inflammatory IL-8 response. In this study, we hypothesized that this excessive inflammatory response is related to an immature expression of innate immune response genes. To address this hypothesis, intestinal RNA expression analysis of innate immune response genes was performed after laser capture microdissection of resected ileal epithelium from fetuses, NEC patients and children and confirmed in ex vivo human intestinal xenografts. Changes in mRNA levels of toll-like receptors (TLR)-2 and -4, their signaling molecules and transcription factors (MyD88, TRAF-6 and NFκB1) and negative regulators (SIGIRR, IRAK-M, A-20 and TOLLIP) and the effector IL-8 were characterized by qRT-PCR. The expression of TLR2, TLR4, MyD88, TRAF-6, NFκB1 and IL-8 mRNA was increased while SIGIRR, IRAK-M, A-20 and TOLLIP mRNA were decreased in fetal vs. mature human enterocytes and further altered in NEC enterocytes. Similar changes in mRNA expression were observed in immature, but not mature, human intestinal xenografts. Confirmation of gene expression was also validated with selective protein measurements and with suggested evidence that immature TRL4 enterocyte surface expression was internalized in mature enterocytes. Cortisone, an intestinal maturation factor, treatment corrected the mRNA differences only in the immature intestinal xenograft. Using specific siRNA to attenuate expression of primary fetal enterocyte cultures, both TOLLIP and A-20 were confirmed to be important when knocked down by exhibiting the same excessive inflammatory response seen in the NEC intestine. We conclude that the excessive inflammatory response of the immature intestine, a hallmark of NEC, is due to a developmental immaturity in innate immune response genes.

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