Animal models of chemotherapy-induced mucositis: translational relevance and challenges

Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2018 Feb 1;314(2):G231-G246. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00204.2017. Epub 2017 Oct 26.


Chemotherapy for cancer patients induces damaging tissue reactions along the epithelium of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). This chemotherapy-induced mucositis (CIM) is a serious side effect of cytotoxic drugs, and several animal models of CIM have been developed, mainly in rodents and piglets, to help understand the progression of CIM and how to prevent it. Animal models allow highly controlled experimental conditions, detailed organ (e.g., GIT) insights, standardized, clinically relevant treatment regimens, and discovery of new biomarkers. Still, surprisingly few results from animal models have been translated into clinical CIM management and treatments. The results obtained from specific animal models can be difficult to translate to the diverse range of CIM manifestations in patients, which vary according to the antineoplastic drugs, dose, underlying (cancer) disease, and patient characteristics (e.g., age, genetics, and body constitution). Another factor that hinders the direct use of results from animals is inadequate collaboration between basic science and clinical science in relation to CIM. Here, we briefly describe CIM pathophysiology, particularly the basic knowledge that has been obtained from CIM animal models. These model studies have indicated potential new preventive and ameliorating interventions, including supplementation with natural bioactive diets (e.g., milk fractions, colostrum, and plant extracts), nutrients (e.g., polyunsaturated fatty acids, short-chain fatty acids, and glutamine), and growth factor peptides (e.g., transforming growth factor and glucagon-like peptide-2), as well as manipulations of the gut microbiota (e.g., prebiotics, probiotics, and antibiotics). Rodent CIM models allow well-controlled, in-depth studies of animals with or without tumors while pig models more easily make clinically relevant treatment regimens possible. In synergy, animal models of CIM provide the basic physiological understanding and the new ideas for treatment that are required to make competent decisions in clinical practice.

Keywords: chemotherapy; inflammation; intestine; mice; mucositis; pig; rat; toxicity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents / toxicity*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gastric Mucosa / drug effects*
  • Gastric Mucosa / metabolism
  • Gastric Mucosa / pathology
  • Gastric Mucosa / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / drug effects*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / physiopathology
  • Mucositis / chemically induced*
  • Mucositis / metabolism
  • Mucositis / pathology
  • Mucositis / physiopathology
  • Species Specificity
  • Translational Medical Research / methods*


  • Antineoplastic Agents