Mucosal healing determined by endoscopy is currently the remission standard for ulcerative colitis (UC). However, new criteria for remission are emerging, such as histologic normalization, which appears to correlate better to the risk of relapse. Here, we study mucosal healing on a molecular and functional level in quiescent UC. We obtained endoscopic biopsies from 33 quiescent UC patients and from 17 controls. Histology was assessed using Geboes score. Protein and mRNA levels were evaluated for the tight junction proteins claudin-2, claudin-4, occludin, and tricellulin, as well as Cl-/HCO3- exchanger DRA, and cyclo-oxygenase enzymes (COX-1, COX-2). The mucosal activity of COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes was assessed in modified Ussing chambers, measuring electrogenic ion transport (short-circuit current, SCC). Chronic inflammation was present in most UC patients. The protein level of claudin-4 was reduced, while mRNA-levels of claudin-2 and claudin-4 were upregulated in UC patients. Surprisingly, the mRNA level of COX-1 was downregulated, but was unaltered for COX-2. Basal ion transport was not affected, while COX-2 inhibition induced a two-fold larger decrease in SCC in UC patients. Despite being in clinical and endoscopic remission, quiescent UC patients demonstrated abnormal mucosal barrier properties at the molecular and functional level. Further exploration of mucosal molecular signature for revision of current remission standards should be considered.
Keywords: COX-1; COX-2; Inflammatory bowel disease; PGE2; mucosal barrier integrity; mucosal healing; short-circuit current; tight junction; ulcerative colitis.