Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a severe gastrointestinal disease affecting premature infants. Mounting evidence supports the therapeutic effect of melatonin on NEC, although the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Methods: NEC was induced in 10-day-old C57BL/6 pups via hypoxia and gavage feeding of formula containing enteric bacteria, and then, mice received melatonin, melatonin + recombinant IL-17, melatonin + anti-CD25 monoclonal antibody, melatonin + Ex-527, or melatonin + Compound C treatment. Control mice were left with their dams to breastfeed and vehicle-treated NEC pups were used as controls for treatment. Ileal tissues were collected from mice and analyzed by histopathology, immunoblotting, and flow cytometry. FITC-labeled dextran was administered to all surviving pups to evaluate gut barrier function by fluorometry. We used molecular biology and cell culture approaches to study the related mechanisms in CD4+ T cells from umbilical cord blood. Results: We demonstrated that melatonin treatment ameliorates disease in an NEC mouse model in a manner dependent on improved intestinal Th17/Treg balance. We also showed that melatonin blocks the differentiation of pathogenic Th17 cells and augments the generation of protective Treg cells in vitro. We further demonstrated that the Th17/Treg balance is influenced by melatonin through activation of AMPK in the intestine, in turn promoting SIRT1 activation and stabilization. Conclusions: These results demonstrate that melatonin-induced activation of AMPK/SIRT1 signaling regulates the balance between Th17 and Treg cells and that therapeutic strategies targeting the Th17/Treg balance via the AMPK/SIRT1 pathway might be beneficial for the treatment of NEC.
Keywords: AMPK/SIRT1 pathway; intestine; melatonin, necrotizing enterocolitis, Th17/Treg imbalance.
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