Appropriate microbial colonization protects the developing intestine by promoting epithelial barrier function and fostering mucosal tolerance to luminal bacteria. Commensal flora mediate their protective effects through TLR9-dependent activation of cytokines, such as type I IFNs (α, β) and IL-10. Although IFN-β promotes apoptosis, IFN-α activates specific antiapoptotic target genes whose actions preserve epithelial barrier integrity. We have recently identified guanylate binding protein-1 (GBP-1) as an antiapoptotic protein, regulated by both type I and type II IFNs, that promotes intestinal epithelial barrier integrity in mature intestine. However, the mechanisms by which commensal bacteria regulate epithelial apoptosis during colonization of immature intestine and the contributions of GBP-1 are unknown. The healthy newborn intestine is initially colonized with bacterial species present in the maternal gastrointestinal tract, including nonpathogenic Escherichia coli. Therefore, we examined the influence of commensal E. coli on cytokine expression and candidate mediators of apoptosis in preweaned mice. Specifically, enteral exposure of 2 wk-old mice to commensal E. coli for 24 h selectively increased both IFN-αA and GBP-1 mRNA expression and prevented staurosporine-induced epithelial apoptosis. Exogenous IFN-αA treatment also induced GBP-1 expression and protected against staurosporine-induced apoptosis in a GBP-1 dependent manner, both in vitro and ex vivo. These findings identify a role for IFN-αA-mediated GBP-1 expression in the prevention of intestinal epithelial apoptosis by commensal bacteria. Thus IFN-αA mediates the beneficial effects of commensal bacteria and may be a promising therapeutic target to promote barrier integrity and prevent the inappropriate inflammatory responses seen in developing intestine as in necrotizing enterocolitis.
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