Indole-3-Carbinol-Dependent Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Signaling Attenuates the Inflammatory Response in Experimental Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Immunohorizons. 2021 Apr 27;5(4):193-209. doi: 10.4049/immunohorizons.2100018.


Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) causes significant morbidity and mortality in premature infants; therefore, the identification of therapeutic and preventative strategies against NEC remains a high priority. The ligand-dependent transcription factor aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) is well known to contribute to the regulation of intestinal microbial communities and amelioration of intestinal inflammation. However, the role of AhR signaling in NEC is unclear. Experimental NEC was induced in 4-d-old wild-type mice or mice lacking AhR expression in the intestinal epithelial cells or AhR expression in CD11c+ cells (AhRΔCD11c) by subjecting animals to twice daily hypoxic stress and gavage feeding with formula supplemented with LPS and enteric bacteria. During NEC, compared with wild-type mice treated with vehicle, littermates treated with an AhR proligand, indole-3-carbinol, had reduced expression of Il1b and Marco, a scavenger receptor that mediates dendritic cell activation and the recognition and clearance of bacterial pathogens by macrophages. Furthermore, indole-3-carbinol treatment led to the downregulation of genes involved in cytokine and chemokine, as revealed by pathway enrichment analysis. AhR expression in the intestinal epithelial cells and their cre-negative mouse littermates were similarly susceptible to experimental NEC, whereas AhRΔCD11c mice with NEC exhibited heightened inflammatory responses compared with their cre-negative mouse littermates. In seeking to determine the mechanisms involved in this increased inflammatory response, we identified the Tim-4- monocyte-dependent subset of macrophages as increased in AhRΔCD11c mice compared with their cre-negative littermates. Taken together, these findings demonstrate the potential for AhR ligands as a novel immunotherapeutic approach to the management of this devastating disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / drug therapy*
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / metabolism
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / microbiology
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / pathology
  • Humans
  • Indoles / pharmacology*
  • Indoles / therapeutic use
  • Interleukin-1beta / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / microbiology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • Indoles
  • Interleukin-1beta
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • indole-3-carbinol