The intestinal complement system in inflammatory bowel disease: Shaping intestinal barrier function

Semin Immunol. 2018 Jun;37:66-73. doi: 10.1016/j.smim.2018.02.008. Epub 2018 Feb 24.


The complement system is part of innate sensor and effector systems such as the Toll-like receptors (TLRs). It recognizes and quickly systemically and/or locally respond to microbial-associated molecular patterns (MAMPs) with a tailored defense reaction. MAMP recognition by intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) and appropriate immune responses are of major importance for the maintenance of intestinal barrier function. Enterocytes highly express various complement components that are suggested to be pivotal for proper IEC function. Appropriate activation of the intestinal complement system seems to play an important role in the resolution of chronic intestinal inflammation, while over-activation and/or dysregulation may worsen intestinal inflammation. Mice deficient for single complement components suffer from enhanced intestinal inflammation mimicking the phenotype of patients with chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn's disease (CD) or ulcerative colitis (UC). However, the mechanisms leading to complement expression in IECs seem to differ markedly between UC and CD patients. Hence, how IECs, intestinal bacteria and epithelial cell expressed complement components interact in the course of IBD still remains to be mostly elucidated to define potential unique patterns contributing to the distinct subtypes of intestinal inflammation observed in CD and UC.

Keywords: Chronic inflammatory bowel disease; Complement system; Crohn’s disease; Intestinal epithelial cells; Ulcerative colitis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Complement Activation
  • Complement System Proteins / genetics
  • Complement System Proteins / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / immunology*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Pathogen-Associated Molecular Pattern Molecules / immunology
  • Receptors, Pattern Recognition / metabolism*


  • Pathogen-Associated Molecular Pattern Molecules
  • Receptors, Pattern Recognition
  • Complement System Proteins