Background: We undertook this study in order to fully characterize the clinical and histopathology features of the dextran sulfate sodium (DSS) model of experimental murine colitis and to discover the earliest histopathologic changes that lead to colitis.
Experimental design: Acute colitis was induced in Swiss-Webster mice by 7 days of oral DSS with animals sacrificed daily. Chronic colitis was induced by: (a) 7 days of oral DSS followed by 7 days of H2O (for 1, 2, and 3 cycles) and (b) 7 days of oral DSS followed by 14 and 21 days of H2O. In each experimental group, the entire colons were examined histologically and correlated with clinical symptoms.
Results: Acute clinical symptoms (diarrhea and/or grossly bloody stool) were associated with the presence of erosions and inflammation. More importantly, the earliest histologic changes which predated clinical colitis was loss of the basal one-third of the crypt (day 3), which progressed with time to loss of the entire crypt resulting in erosions on day 5. The earliest changes were very focal and not associated with inflammation. Inflammation was a secondary phenomena and only became significant after erosions appeared. Animals treated with only 7 days of DSS followed by 14 and 21 days of H2O developed a chronic colitis with the following histologic features: areas of activity (erosions and inflammation), inactivity, crypt distortion, florid epithelial proliferation and possible dysplasia. These changes were similar to animals given 3 cycles of DSS. The clinical disease activity index correlated significantly with pathologic changes in both the acute and chronic phases of the disease.
Conclusions: The mechanism of DSS colitis is presently unknown. However, the finding of crypt loss without proceeding or accompanying inflammation suggests that the initial insult is at the level of the epithelial cell with inflammation being a secondary phenomena. This may be a good model to study how early mucosal changes lead to inflammation and the biology of the colonic enterocyte. Chronic colitis induced after only 7 days of DSS may serve as a useful model to study the effects of pharmacologic agents in human inflammatory disease and mechanisms of perpetuation of inflammation. Finally, we believe that this model has the potential to study the dysplasia cancer sequence in inflammatory disease.