Background: Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the leading surgical cause of death in premature infants. We have accumulated evidence supporting a role for heparin-binding epidermal growth factor (EGF)-like growth factor (HB-EGF) in protection of the intestines from NEC. The aim of the current study was to evaluate the effect of loss-of-function of endogenous HB-EGF on susceptibility to NEC.
Methods: Neonatal HB-EGF((-/-)) knockout (KO) mice and their HB-EGF((+/+)) wild-type (WT) counterparts were exposed to experimental NEC. An additional group of HB-EGF KO pups were also exposed to NEC but had HB-EGF added to their formula. To examine gut barrier function, HB-EGF KO and WT pups received intragastric fluorescein isothiocyanate-labeled dextran (FITC dextran) under basal and stressed conditions, and serum FITC dextran levels were measured.
Results: The WT mice had an incidence of NEC of 53%, whereas HB-EGF KO mice had a significantly increased incidence of NEC of 80% (P = .04). Importantly, administration of exogenous HB-EGF to HB-EGF KO pups significantly reduced the incidence of NEC to 45% (P = .04). Heparin-binding EGF KO mice had significantly increased intestinal permeability compared to WT mice under basal and stressed conditions.
Conclusions: Our results provide evidence that loss of the HB-EGF gene increases susceptibility to NEC and that administration of exogenous HB-EGF reverses this susceptibility.
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