Background: Intestinal mucosal turnover is a process of proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis; the mechanisms remain largely undefined. The purpose of our study was to (1) assess the relationship between apoptosis and enterocyte differentiation and (2) determine whether the cell-cycle inhibitors, p21Waf1/Cip1 and p27Kip1, or the apoptosis inhibitors, Bcl-2 and Bcl-XL, may be involved.
Methods: Gut-derived Caco-2 cells were treated with sodium butyrate. Apoptosis was assessed by Hoechst stain, DNA laddering, and annexin V assay; differentiation was determined by alkaline phosphatase and sucrase activity. RNA and protein were analyzed for expression of p21Waf1/Cip1, p27Kip1, and members of the Bcl-2 family.
Results: Treatment of Caco-2 cells with sodium butyrate resulted in the concomitant induction of both differentiation (increased alkaline phosphatase and sucrase activity) and apoptosis. Increased levels of p21Waf1/Cip1 and p27Kip1 mRNA and protein were detected at 24 hours, occurring before apoptosis or differentiation; decreased mRNA levels of Bcl-2 and Bcl-XL were noted at 24 hours.
Conclusions: Differentiation and apoptosis occurred simultaneously in Caco-2 cells, suggesting that apoptosis may be linked to enterocyte differentiation. The induction of p21Waf1/Cip1 and p27Kip1 and the down-regulation of Bcl-2 and Bcl-XL further suggest a link between the cell-cycle mechanisms regulating enterocyte differentiation and apoptosis.