Background: A defective mucus composition represents a key pathogenetic factor for intestinal injury. Phosphatidylcholine (PC) is an essential component contributing to formation of a hydrophobic mucus layer. For evaluation of PC in the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease, the concentration and composition of PC in the rectal mucus of patients with ulcerative colitis was determined. Electrospray ionization (ESI) tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) allows quantification of PC species and enables analysis of crude extracts.
Methods: Lipid extracts of material obtained by light scrapings of the intestinal lumen were analysed quantitatively by nanoESI MS/MS with synthetic internal PC and lysophosphatidylcholine (LPC) standards. PC and LPC species from rectoscopically acquired mucus aliquots of patients with ulcerative colitis were compared to Crohn disease and control subjects.
Results: Patients with inactive ulcerative colitis showed significantly less PC and LPC (median 346 [IQR: 230-405] pmol total PC/mg dry weight) in rectal mucus compared to Crohn disease (median 126 [IQR: 465-1941] pmol total PC/mg dry weight) and control subjects (median 1285 [IQR: 850-1639] pmol total PC/mg dry weight) (P < 0.05). The molecular species of PC and LPC were not significantly different between the groups. The most abundant species were PC 16:0/18:1; PC 16:0/18:2; PC 18:0/18:1; PC 18:0/18:2; LPC 16:0; and LPC 18:0.
Conclusion: NanoESI MS/MS is a suitable tool for analysing and quantifying small amounts of PC in human mucus. Patients with ulcerative colitis have significant less PC in their intestinal mucus despite a comparable PC molecular species composition pattern. This suggests that a low amount of protective mucus PC is a characteristic feature in ulcerative colitis and explains an increased susceptibility to luminal contents.