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Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2005 Apr;288(4):G755-62. Epub 2004 Nov 4.

Epidermal growth factor reduces intestinal apoptosis in an experimental model of necrotizing enterocolitis.

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Dept. of Pediatrics, Univ. of Arizona, 1501 N. Campbell Ave, P.O. Box 245073, Tucson, AZ 85724-5073, USA.


Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a devastating intestinal disease of premature infants. Although end-stage NEC is characterized histopathologically as extensive necrosis, apoptosis may account for the initial loss of epithelium before full development of disease. We have previously shown that epidermal growth factor (EGF) reduces the incidence of NEC in a rat model. Although EGF has been shown to protect intestinal enterocytes from apoptosis, the mechanism of EGF-mediated protection against NEC is not known. The aim of this study was to investigate if EGF treatment elicits changes in expression of apoptotic markers in the ileum during the development of NEC. With the use of a well-established neonatal rat model of NEC, rats were divided into the following three experimental groups: dam fed (DF), milk formula fed (NEC), or fed with formula supplemented with 500 ng/ml EGF (NEC+EGF). Changes in ileal morphology, gene and protein expression, and histological localization of apoptotic regulators were evaluated. Anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 mRNA levels were markedly reduced and pro-apoptotic Bax mRNA levels were markedly elevated in the NEC group compared with DF controls. Supplementation of EGF into formula significantly increased anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 mRNA, whereas pro-apoptotic Bax was significantly decreased. The Bax-to-Bcl-2 ratio for mRNA and protein was markedly decreased in NEC+EGF animals compared with the NEC group. The presence of caspase-3-positive epithelial cells was markedly reduced in EGF-treated rats. These data suggest that alteration of the balance between pro-and anti-apoptotic proteins in the site of injury is a possible mechanism by which EGF maintains intestinal integrity and protects intestinal epithelium against NEC injury.

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