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Lab Invest. 2006 Feb;86(2):191-201.

Epithelial myosin light chain kinase expression and activity are upregulated in inflammatory bowel disease.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


The intestinal epithelial barrier is frequently disrupted in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and this has been proposed to play a role in disease pathogenesis and reactivation. In vitro studies show that cytokine-induced epithelial barrier dysfunction can be mediated by increased myosin light chain kinase (MLCK) expression and subsequent myosin II regulatory light chain (MLC) phosphorylation. However, this has never been examined in human disease. The aim of these studies, therefore, was to determine whether MLCK is upregulated in the intestinal epithelium of IBD patients. MLCK expression and MLC phosphorylation in human intestinal resection and biopsy specimens were determined by quantitative immunofluorescence microscopy and correlated with clinical and histopathological data. The data show that ileal epithelial MLCK expression was mildly upregulated in inactive IBD. Expression increased further in active disease, with progressive increases in MLCK expression correlating positively with histological disease activity. This correlation between activity and MLCK expression was also seen in individual patients where areas of differing disease activity were analyzed. Colonic epithelial MLCK expression was similarly increased in active IBD and these increases also correlated positively with disease activity, both in individual patients and the overall study group. To evaluate MLCK enzymatic activity, MLC phosphorylation was assessed in snap-frozen colon biopsies. MLC phosphorylation was significantly increased in biopsies with active, but not inactive, IBD. Therefore, these data show that MLCK expression and enzymatic activity are increased in IBD. Moreover, the correlation with disease activity suggests that MLCK upregulation may contribute to barrier dysfunction and IBD pathogenesis.

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