Background: Around 30% of patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are refractory to current IBD drugs or relapse over time. Novel treatments are called for, and low dose Naltrexone (LDN) may provide a safe, easily accessible alternative treatment option for these patients. We investigated the potential of LDN to induce clinical response in therapy refractory IBD patients, and investigated its direct effects on epithelial barrier function.
Methods: Patients not in remission and not responding to conventional therapy were offered to initiate LDN as a concomitant treatment. In total 47 IBD patients prescribed LDN were followed prospectively for 12 weeks. Where available, endoscopic remission data, serum and biopsies were collected. Further the effect of Naltrexone on wound healing (scratch assay), cytokine production and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress (GRP78 and CHOP western blot analysis, immunohistochemistry) were investigated in HCT116 and CACO2 intestinal epithelial cells, human IBD intestinal organoids and patient samples.
Results: Low dose Naltrexone induced clinical improvement in 74.5%, and remission in 25.5% of patients. Naltrexone improved wound healing and reduced ER stress induced by Tunicamycin, lipopolysaccharide or bacteria in epithelial barriers. Inflamed mucosa from IBD patients showed high ER stress levels, which was reduced in patients treated with LDN. Cytokine levels in neither epithelial cells nor serum from IBD patients were affected.
Conclusions: Naltrexone directly improves epithelial barrier function by improving wound healing and reducing mucosal ER stress levels. Low dose Naltrexone treatment is effective and safe, and could be considered for the treatment of therapy refractory IBD patients.
Keywords: Crohn’s disease; Endoplasmic reticulum stress; Naltrexone; Ulcerative colitis; Wound healing.