Background: Gut mucosal homeostasis depends on a balance between cell proliferation and cell death. After cutaneous burn injury, gut mucosal weight has been shown to decrease. This decrease in weight was paradoxically associated with an increase in gut proliferative factors. For mucosal weight to decrease in the presence of increased proliferation, there must be an even greater increase in cell death. We postulate that cutaneous burn injury causes an increase in gut epithelial cell death primarily by apoptosis. Study Design: We produced a 30% full-thickness scald burn in the dorsum of anesthetized male C57BL6 mice and collected the proximal small bowel at 12, 24, 36, 48, and 60 hours after injury. Sham burned animals served as controls. Apoptosis and proliferation were measured by immunohistochemical assays (terminal deoxyuridine nick-end labeling for apoptosis and proliferative cell nuclear antigen assay for proliferation). Apoptosis was also measured by ELISA for cytoplasmic histone-associated DNA fragments. Mucosal height was determined on histologic sections. The two groups were compared at each time point using Wilcoxon two-sample test and t-test with Bonferroni's correction where appropriate. Results: The percentage of apoptotic cells (number of cells stained by terminal deoxyuridine nick-end labeling per 100 villus cells) was significantly higher at 12, 24, and 48 hours after injury. This increase was corroborated by an increase in the ELISA at 12 hours. Proliferation as measured by immunostaining for proliferative cell nuclear antigen significantly increased at 12, 24, 48, and 60 hours. Mucosal height as a gross measure of mucosal atrophy was not different between the groups. Conclusions: We have shown an increase in apoptosis coupled with an increase in proliferation after a burn injury. These results imply an increase in cell turnover in the gut epithelial cells after a burn. Impaired bowel function has been demonstrated repeatedly after burn injury, and this increase in cell turnover may be related.
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