BACKGROUND & AIMS - Colon epithelial cells are critical for barrier function and contain a highly developed immune response. A previous study has shown hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) as a critical regulator of barrier protection during colon epithelial injury. However, the role of HIF signaling in colon mucosal immunity is not known.
METHODS - With the use of cre/loxP technology, intestinal-specific disruption of von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor protein (Vhl), hypoxia-inducible factor (Hif)-1alpha, and aryl hydrocarbon nuclear translocator (Arnt) was generated. Colon inflammation was induced using a dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced colitis model, and the mice were analyzed by histologic analysis, Western blot analysis, and quantitative polymerase chain reaction.
RESULTS - In mice, colonic epithelium disruption of Vhl resulted in constitutive expression of HIF, which initiated an increase in inflammatory infiltrates and edema in the colon. These effects were ameliorated in mice by disruption of both Vhl and Arnt/Hif1beta (which inactivates HIF). In a DSS-induced colitis model, increased HIF expression correlated with more severe clinical symptoms and an increase in histologic damage, while disruption of both Vhl and Arnt in the colon epithelium inhibited these effects. Furthermore, colons with constitutive activation of HIF displayed increased expression of proinflammatory mediators that were synergistically potentiated following DSS administration and reduced by inhibition of the proinflammatory and direct HIF target gene macrophage migration inhibitory factor.
CONCLUSIONS - The present study shows that a chronic increase in HIF signaling in the colon epithelial cells initiates a hyperinflammatory reaction that may have important implications in developing therapeutic strategies for inflammatory bowel disease.