Background: A major causative factor of diarrhea in ulcerative colitis (UC) patients is the loss of Na(+) absorptive capacity of the inflamed colonic mucosa. Potential contributing mechanisms include reduced driving force for active transport, and impaired expression, mislocalization, or defective transport function of Na(+) absorptive proteins. We therefore studied the expression, brush border membrane (BBM) localization, and transport capacity of the major intestinal Na(+) absorptive protein, the Na(+)/H(+) exchanger isoform 3 (NHE3) in biopsies from UC patients.
Methods: In UC and control biopsies, inflammation was graded histologically, NHE3, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), villin, as well as other housekeeping genes were analyzed by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), BBM localization of NHE3 determined by immunohistochemistry, and confocal microscopy. Na(+) absorptive capacity was assessed by (22)Na(+) isotope fluxes and NHE3 transport activity measured microfluorometrically in BCECF-loaded surface colonocytes within isolated crypts.
Results: In mildly, moderately, and severely inflamed sigmoid colon of UC patients, neither NHE3 mRNA expression nor the abundance of NHE3 in the BBM was significantly altered compared to other structural components of the BBM. However, Na(+) absorption was strongly reduced by approximately 80% and acid-activated NHE3 transport activity was significantly decreased in the surface cells of sigmoid colonic crypts even in moderately inflamed mucosa.
Conclusions: In the colonic mucosa of patients with active UC, NHE3 transport capacity was found significantly decreased despite correct NHE3 location and abundance in the brush border, independent of current treatment. These findings suggest functional NHE3 transport as a novel factor for inflammatory diarrhea in UC patients.