Intestinal Epithelial Cells Adapt to Chronic Inflammation through Partial Genetic Reprogramming

Cancers (Basel). 2023 Feb 3;15(3):973. doi: 10.3390/cancers15030973.


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are considered to be the main drivers of inflammatory bowel disease. We investigated whether this permanent insult compels intestinal stem cells to develop strategies to dampen the deleterious effects of ROS. As an adverse effect, this adaptation process may increase their tolerance to oncogenic insults and facilitate their neoplastic transformation. We submitted immortalized human colonic epithelial cells to either a mimic of chronic inflammation or to a chemical peroxide, analyzed how they adapted to stress, and addressed the biological relevance of these observations in databases. We demonstrated that cells adapt to chronic-inflammation-associated oxidative stress in vitro through a partial genetic reprogramming. Through a gene set enrichment analysis, we showed that this program is recurrently active in the intestinal mucosae of Crohn's and ulcerative colitis disease patients and evolves alongside disease progression. Based on a previously reported characterization of intestinal stem and precursor cells using tracing experiments, we lastly confirmed the activation of the program in intestinal precursor cells during murine colorectal cancer development. This adaptive process is thus likely to play a role in the progression of Crohn's and ulcerative disease, and potentially in the initiation of colorectal cancer.

Keywords: ZEB transcription factors; adaptation to chronic-inflammation-associated oxidative stress; inflammatory bowel disease progression; intestinal cell reprogramming.