Profound loss of esophageal tissue differentiation in patients with eosinophilic esophagitis

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2017 Sep;140(3):738-749.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2016.11.042. Epub 2017 Jan 17.


Background: A key question in the allergy field is to understand how tissue-specific disease is manifested. Eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) is an emerging tissue-specific allergic disease with an unclear pathogenesis.

Objective: Herein we tested the hypothesis that a defect in tissue-specific esophageal genes is an integral part of EoE pathogenesis.

Methods: We interrogated the pattern of expression of esophagus-specific signature genes derived from the Human Protein Atlas in the EoE transcriptome and in EPC2 esophageal epithelial cells. Western blotting and immunofluorescence were used for evaluating expression of esophageal proteins in biopsy specimens from control subjects and patients with active EoE. Whole-exome sequencing was performed to identify mutations in esophagus-specific genes.

Results: We found that approximately 39% of the esophagus-specific transcripts were altered in patients with EoE, with approximately 90% being downregulated. The majority of transcriptional changes observed in esophagus-specific genes were reproduced in vitro in esophageal epithelial cells differentiated in the presence of IL-13. Functional enrichment analysis revealed keratinization and differentiation as the most affected biological processes and identified IL-1 cytokines and serine peptidase inhibitors as the most dysregulated esophagus-specific protein families in patients with EoE. Accordingly, biopsy specimens from patients with EoE evidenced a profound loss of tissue differentiation, decreased expression of keratin 4 (KRT4) and cornulin (CRNN), and increased expression of KRT5 and KRT14. Whole-exome sequencing of 33 unrelated patients with EoE revealed 39 rare mutations in 18 esophagus-specific differentially expressed genes.

Conclusions: A tissue-centered analysis has revealed a profound loss of esophageal tissue differentiation (identity) as an integral and specific part of the pathophysiology of EoE and implicated protease- and IL-1-related activities as putative central pathways in disease pathogenesis.

Keywords: Eosinophilic esophagitis; IL-1 cytokines; IL-13; differentiation; mutations; protease activity; whole-exome sequencing.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Child
  • Eosinophilic Esophagitis / genetics*
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Esophagus / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-13 / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Mutation
  • Transcriptome


  • Interleukin-13