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Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) regulates macromolecular permeability via mast cells in normal human colonic biopsies in vitro
  1. C Wallon1,
  2. P-C Yang2,
  3. Å V Keita1,
  4. A-C Ericson1,
  5. D M McKay3,
  6. P M Sherman4,
  7. M H Perdue2,
  8. J D Söderholm1
  1. 1
    Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden
  2. 2
    Intestinal Disease Research Programme, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
  3. 3
    Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Calgary, Canada
  4. 4
    Hospital for Sick Children, Departments of Paediatrics and Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
  1. Dr J D Söderholm, Department of Surgery, University Hospital, SE-581 85 Linköping, Sweden; johda{at}


Objective: Persistent stress and life events affect the course of ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome by largely unknown mechanisms. Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) has been implicated as an important mediator of stress-induced abnormalities in intestinal mucosal function in animal models, but to date no studies in human colon have been reported. The aim was to examine the effects of CRH on mucosal barrier function in the human colon and to elucidate the mechanisms involved in CRH-induced hyper-permeability.

Design: Biopsies from 39 volunteers were assessed for macromolecular permeability (horseradish peroxidise (HRP), 51Cr-EDTA), and electrophysiology after CRH challenge in Ussing chambers. The biopsies were examined by electron and confocal microscopy for HRP and CRH receptor localisation, respectively. Moreover, CRH receptor mRNA and protein expression were examined in the human mast cell line, HMC-1.

Results: Mucosal permeability to HRP was increased by CRH (2.8±0.5 pmol/cm2/h) compared to vehicle exposure (1.5±0.4 pmol/cm2/h), p = 0.032, whereas permeability to 51Cr-EDTA and transmucosal electrical resistance were unchanged. The increased permeability to HRP was abolished by α-helical CRH (9-41) (1.3±0.6 pmol/cm2/h) and the mast cell stabiliser, lodoxamide (1.6±0.6 pmol/cm2/h). Electron microscopy showed transcellular passage of HRP through colonocytes. CRH receptor subtypes R1 and R2 were detected in the HMC-1 cell line and in lamina propria mast cells in human colon.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that CRH mediates transcellular uptake of HRP in human colonic mucosa via CRH receptor subtypes R1 and R2 on subepithelial mast cells. CRH-induced macromolecular uptake in human colon mucosa may have implications for stress-related intestinal disorders.

  • CRH receptor subtypes
  • barrier function
  • electron microscopy
  • human mast cell line
  • intestinal mucosa

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  • Funding: This study was supported by the Swedish Research Council (VR-M), the Swedish Society of Medicine (Ihre Foundation), the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada (CCFC) and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR). DMM holds a Canada Research Chair in Intestinal Immunophysiology and is supported by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR). PMS is the recipient of a Canada Research Chair in Gastrointestinal Disease.

  • Competing interests: None.