Background & aims: Normal resident bacteria are required for development of colitis in several rodent models. We determined whether bacterial stimulation is necessary for both induction and perpetuation of mucosal inflammation and T-cell activation in Tg(epsilon26) mice, in which transplantation of wild-type bone marrow (BM-->Tg(epsilon26)) causes colitis under specific pathogen-free (SPF) conditions.
Methods: BM from (C57BL/6 X CBA/J) F1 mice was transplanted into germfree (GF) or SPF Tg(epsilon26) mice. Mesenteric lymph node (MLN) cells from these mice were then transferred into SPF or GF recipients. Colitis and activation of MLN cells were measured by histologic scores, membrane marker analysis, and intracellular cytokine staining. Cytokine secretion by MLN cells stimulated by anti-CD3 or by luminal or epithelial antigens was measured by ELISA.
Results: Colitis did not develop when BM was transferred into GF recipient mice (BM-->GF Tg(epsilon26)). T lymphocytes that secreted interferon gamma upon activation were present in the MLN of BM-->GF Tg(epsilon26) mice, albeit in lower frequency than in control BM-->SPF Tg(epsilon26) mice. Furthermore, transfer of MLN cells from BM-->SPF Tg(epsilon26) mice into SPF Tg(epsilon26) recipients induced active colitis, but not if the same cells were transferred into GF Tg(epsilon26) recipients. Although CD4 T cells were detected in the colonic mucosa of GF recipients, no inflammation was observed for at least 31 weeks. In a reciprocal experiment, MLN cells from BM-->GF Tg(epsilon26) mice without colitis transferred disease to SPF Tg(epsilon26) recipients within 2-4 weeks.
Conclusions: Activated T cells are present in the mucosa of BM-->GF Tg(epsilon26) mice but are incapable of inducing disease unless colonic bacteria are present. Moreover, pathogenic T cells require the continuous presence of colonic bacteria to sustain colitis.