Survival and proliferation signals are two processes closely interrelated and finely controlled in most cell types, whose deregulation may lead to carcinogenesis. In the last decade, different studies have suggested that both cellular functions are also intimately associated with other cellular activities such as differentiation and cellular activation, especially in immune cells. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of the short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) butyrate on the proliferation and activation state of different cell types involved in inflammatory bowel disease. We focused on intestinal epithelial cells, macrophages and T-lymphocytes, using both primary non-transformed cultures and established cell lines. The results showed that low concentrations of butyrate inhibited the proliferation of all the immune cell types tested in this work, whereas it only induced apoptosis in activated T-lymphocytes, non-differentiated epithelial cells and macrophage cell lines, but not in differentiated epithelial cells or primary macrophages. Butyrate apoptosis induction was mediated by caspase-3/7 activation. This SCFA was only able to modify cell activation, measured as expression of inflammatory cytokines, in those cell types in which apoptosis was induced. In conclusion, our results suggest a cell type-specificity of the immune-modulatory effects of butyrate based on the proliferation/activation characteristic physiology of these processes in different cells types.
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