Aims: Small intestinal crypt cells rapidly undergo apoptosis in response to cytotoxic drug treatment that results in gastrointestinal toxicity. The Bcl-2 family have been implicated in both positive and negative regulation of intestinal cell apoptosis. The aim of this study was to examine the effect of cytotoxic treatment on Bcl-2 protein expression in patients and rats with tumours.
Methods: Four pro- and four anti-apoptotic members of the Bcl-2 family, caspase-3 and p53 were examined in small intestinal crypts before and after treatment in rats and humans. Immunohistochemistry identified changes in protein expression over time, while relative RT-PCR was used to investigate mRNA expression in rat small intestine.
Results: Cytotoxic treatment increased p53 and caspase-3 which coincided with elevated levels of apoptosis. Bax and Bak protein and mRNA expression also significantly increased at 6 hours following treatment in rats. Bax and Bak protein increased at day 1 after treatment in humans. Anti-apoptotic Mcl-1 protein decreased within 24hours. Other Bcl-2 family members showed only modest changes.
Conclusion: Increased expression of Bax and Bak but not other Bcl-2 family members is associated with apoptosis in small intestinal crypts and may amplify the sensitivity and susceptibility of crypt cells to chemotherapy-induced enteropathy.