The role of the enteric nervous system in intestinal inflammation is not fully understood and the plethora of cellular activities concurrently ongoing in vivo renders intelligible studies difficult. In order to explore possible effects of bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) on enteric neurons we utilised cultured myenteric neurons from rat small intestine. Exposure to LPS caused markedly reduced neuronal survival and increased neuronal expression of vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), while the expression of Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) was unchanged. TLR4 was expressed in approximately 35% of all myenteric neurons irrespective of if they were cultured in the presence or absence of LPS. In neurons cultured in medium, without LPS, 50% of all TLR4-immunoreactive neurons contained also VIP. Addition of LPS to the neuronal cultures markedly increased the proportion of TLR4-immunoreactive neurons also expressing VIP, while the proportion of TLR4 neurons devoid of VIP decreased. Simultaneous addition of LPS and VIP to the neuronal cultures resulted in a neuronal survival comparable to controls.
Conclusions: LPS recognition by myenteric neurons is mediated via TLR4 and causes neuronal cell death. Presence of VIP rescues the neurons from LPS-induced neurodegeneration.