Eosinophils express muscarinic receptors and corticotropin-releasing factor to disrupt the mucosal barrier in ulcerative colitis

Gastroenterology. 2011 May;140(5):1597-607. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2011.01.042. Epub 2011 Jan 26.


Background & aims: Altered intestinal barrier function has been implicated in the pathophysiology of ulcerative colitis (UC) in genetic, functional, and epidemiological studies. Mast cells and corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) regulate the mucosal barrier in human colon. Because eosinophils are often increased in colon tissues of patients with UC, we assessed interactions among mast cells, CRF, and eosinophils in the mucosal barrier of these patients.

Methods: Transmucosal fluxes of protein antigens (horseradish peroxidase) and paracellular markers ((51)Cr-EDTA, fluorescein isothiocyanate-dextran 4000) were studied in noninflamed, colonic mucosal biopsy samples collected from 26 patients with UC and 53 healthy volunteers (controls); samples were mounted in Ussing chambers. We also performed fluorescence and electron microscopy of human tissue samples, assessed isolated eosinophils, and performed mechanistic studies using in vitro cocultured eosinophils (15HL-60), mast cells (HMC-1), and a colonic epithelial cell line (T84).

Results: Colon tissues from patients with UC had significant increases in permeability to protein antigens compared with controls. Permeability was blocked by atropine (a muscarinic receptor antagonist), α-helical CRF(9-41) (a CRF receptor antagonist), and lodoxamide (a mast-cell stabilizer). Eosinophils were increased in number in UC tissues (compared with controls), expressed the most M2 and M3 muscarinic receptors of any mucosal cell type, and had immunoreactivity to CRF. In coculture studies, carbachol activation of eosinophils caused production of CRF and activation of mast cells, which increased permeability of T84 epithelial cells to macromolecules.

Conclusions: We identified a neuroimmune intercellular circuit (from cholinergic nerves, via eosinophils to mast cells) that mediates colonic mucosal barrier dysfunction in patients with UC. This circuit might exacerbate mucosal inflammation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Atropine / pharmacology
  • Biopsy
  • Cell Line
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / metabolism*
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / pathology
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / biosynthesis*
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / drug effects
  • Eosinophils / drug effects
  • Eosinophils / metabolism*
  • Eosinophils / ultrastructure
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intestinal Mucosa / drug effects
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / ultrastructure
  • Mast Cells / drug effects
  • Mast Cells / metabolism
  • Mast Cells / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning Transmission
  • Muscarinic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Muscarinic / biosynthesis*
  • Receptors, Muscarinic / drug effects


  • Muscarinic Antagonists
  • Receptors, Muscarinic
  • Atropine
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone