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J Neurotrauma. 2009 Aug;26(8):1353-9. doi: 10.1089/neu.2008-0858.

Traumatic brain injury and intestinal dysfunction: uncovering the neuro-enteric axis.

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Department of Surgery, Division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care and Burns, University of California-San Diego, San Diego, CA 92103, USA.


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can lead to several physiologic complications including gastrointestinal dysfunction. Specifically, TBI can induce an increase in intestinal permeability, which may lead to bacterial translocation, sepsis, and eventually multi-system organ failure. However, the exact mechanism of increased intestinal permeability following TBI is unknown. We hypothesized that expression of tight junction protein ZO-1 and occludin, responsible for intestinal architectural and functional integrity, will decrease following TBI and increase intestinal permeability. BALB/c mice underwent a weight drop TBI model following anesthesia. Brain injury was confirmed by a neurologic assessment and gross brain pathology. Six hours following injury, FITC-dextran (25 mg 4.4 kDa FITC-dextran) was injected into the intact lumen of the isolated ileum. Intestinal permeability was measured in plasma 30 min following injection, by using spectrophotometry to determine plasma FITC-dextran concentrations. Whole ileum extracts were used to measure expression of tight junction proteins ZO-1 and occludin by Western blot. TBI caused a significant increase in intestinal permeability (110.0 microg/mL +/-22.2) compared to sham animals (29.4 microg/mL +/- 9.7) 6 h after injury (p = 0.016). Expression of ZO-1 was decreased by 49% relative to sham animals (p < 0.02), whereas expression of occludin was decreased by 73% relative to sham animals (p < 0.001). An increase in intestinal permeability corresponds with decreased expression of tight junction proteins ZO-1 and occludin following TBI. Expression of intestinal tight junction proteins may be an important factor in gastrointestinal dysfunction following brain injury.

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