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Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2011 Sep;17(9):1907-16. doi: 10.1002/ibd.21555. Epub 2010 Dec 3.

Potential role for SNAIL family transcription factors in the etiology of Crohn's disease-associated fistulae.

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Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Zurich Center for Integrative Human Physiology, University Hospital and University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.



Fistulae represent an important clinical complication of Crohn's disease (CD). The fistula tracts are covered by flat, myofibroblast-like cells with an epithelial origin (transitional cells, TC). We recently demonstrated a role of epithelial mesenchymal transition (EMT) in the pathogenesis of CD-associated fistulae. EMT is associated with an increased migratory and invasive potential of epithelial cells in different tissues. Here we investigated whether cytokines or growth factors as well as EMT-associated SNAIL family transcription factors are expressed in CD fistulae.


By immunohistochemistry we analyzed seven perianal fistulae from seven CD and two perianal fistulae from two non-inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) control patients. Hematoxylin and eosin staining or immunohistochemistry for the expression of tumor necrosis factor (TNF), TNF-receptor I (TNF-RI), SNAIL1, SLUG, fibroblast growth factors (FGF) 1, 2, 4, 7, epidermal growth factor (EGF), and TWIST were performed using standard techniques.


Immunohistochemical staining of surgical specimens from CD patients revealed a strong expression of TNF and TNF-RI in and around fistula tracts. While SNAIL1 was also heavily expressed in the nuclei of TC, indicative of transcriptionally active protein, SLUG, FGF-1, and FGF-2 were detected rather in the fibrotic periphery of CD fistulae than in TC. In contrast, we did not detect considerable protein staining for FGF-4 and FGF-7 nor of EGF or the transcription factor, TWIST.


Our data demonstrate that SNAIL1 and TNF are strongly expressed in TC of CD-associated fistulae. These observations support our previous data and indicate the onset of EMT-associated events in the pathogenesis of CD fistulae.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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