Objective Chronic psychological stress is associated with development of intestinal barrier dysfunction and impairs host defence mechanisms. The intestinal epithelium, consisting of enterocytes, endocrine cells, goblet cells and Paneth cells, is an important component of this barrier. In the present study, the impact of maternal deprivation (MD) on secretory lineages of duodenal epithelium and the involvement of the peripheral corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) pathway were investigated.
Methods Rat pups were deprived of their dam for 3 h/day (days 5–20). Non-deprived pups served as controls. On days 8, 13, 20, 24, 34, 44 and 84, duodenal tissues were collected for quantitative real-time PCR and immunohistochemistry studies.
Results MD induced a sustained decrease in the number of Paneth and goblet cells but hyperplasia of endocrine cells. These alterations were associated with a duodenal increase of CRF, urocortin 2 and CRF receptor subtype 2 (CRFR2) mRNA, whereas CRFR1 expression was decreased. The effects of MD on intestinal epithelium were inhibited by the CRFR1/R2 antagonist astressin injected daily before MD. Studies using specific receptor antagonists in rats subjected to MD revealed that CRFR1 was involved in the hyperplasia of endocrine cells and CRFR2 in the depletion of Paneth cells. Conversely, daily injection of CRF and of the CRFR2 agonist urocortin 2 in control rats resulted in changes in epithelial differentiation similar to MD.
Conclusions The activation of CRFR1 and CRFR2 induced by MD markedly altered the quantitative distribution of secretory cells of the intestinal epithelium. These alterations, in particular the depletion of Paneth and goblet cells, may create conditions leading to the development of an epithelial barrier defect.
- duodenal mucosa
- enteroendocrine cells
- epithelial differentiation
- goblet cells
- intestinal epithelium
- mucosal protection
- Paneth cells
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Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.