Intestinal barrier: Molecular pathways and modifiers

World J Gastrointest Pathophysiol. 2013 Nov 15;4(4):94-9. doi: 10.4291/wjgp.v4.i4.94.


The gastrointestinal tract is frequently challenged by pathogens/antigens contained in food and water and the intestinal epithelium must be capable of rapid regeneration in the event of tissue damage. Disruption of the intestinal barrier leads to a number of immune-mediated diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, food allergy, and celiac disease. The intestinal mucosa is composed of different types of epithelial cells in specific barrier functions. Epithelial cells control surface-associated bacterial populations without disrupting the intestinal microflora that is crucial for host health. They are also capable of modulating mucosal immune system, and are thus essential in maintaining homeostasis in the gut. Thus, the regulation of intestinal epithelial homeostasis is crucial for the maintenance of the structure of the mucosa and the defensive barrier functions. Recent studies have demonstrated that multiple molecular pathways are involved in the regulation of intestinal epithelial cell polarity. These include the Wnt, Notch, Hippo, transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β)/bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) and Hedgehog pathways, most of which were identified in lower organisms where they play important roles during embryogenesis. These pathways are also used in adult organisms to regulate multiple self-renewing organs. Understanding the interactions between these molecular mechanisms and intestinal barrier function will therefore provide important insight into the pathogenesis of intestinal-based immune-mediated diseases.

Keywords: Homeostasis; Immune-mediated disease; Intestinal epithelium; Molecular pathways; Mucosal barrier.

Publication types

  • Review