Background & aims: Chronic inflammation is a risk factor for colon cancer in patients with ulcerative colitis (UC). The molecular mechanisms linking inflammation and colon carcinogenesis are incompletely understood. We tested the hypothesis that Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) is involved in tumorigenesis in the setting of chronic inflammation.
Methods: Tissues from UC patients with cancer were examined for TLR4 expression. Colitis-associated neoplasia was induced using azoxymethane injection followed by dextran sodium sulfate treatment in TLR4-deficient or wild-type mice. Inflammation, polyps, and microscopic dysplasia were scored. Cyclooxygenase (Cox)-2 and prostaglandin E(2) production were analyzed by real-time polymerase chain reaction, immunohistochemistry, or enzyme immunoassay. Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) phosphorylation and amphiregulin production were examined by Western blot analysis and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, respectively.
Results: We show that TLR4 is overexpressed in human and murine inflammation-associated colorectal neoplasia. TLR4-deficient mice were protected markedly from colon carcinogenesis. Mechanistically, we show that TLR4 is responsible for induction of Cox-2, increased prostaglandin E(2) production, and activation of EGFR signaling in chronic colitis. Amphiregulin, an EGFR ligand, was induced in a TLR4, Cox-2-dependent fashion and contributes to activation of EGFR phosphorylation in colonic epithelial cells.
Conclusions: TLR4 signaling is critical for colon carcinogenesis in chronic colitis. TLR4 activation appears to promote the development of colitis-associated cancer by mechanisms including enhanced Cox-2 expression and increased EGFR signaling. Inhibiting TLR4 signaling may be useful in the prevention or treatment of colitis-associated cancer.