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Gastroenterology. 2011 Nov;141(5):1821-31. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.049.

Retinoic acid attenuates ileitis by restoring the balance between T-helper 17 and T regulatory cells.

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Mucosal Inflammation Program, University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora, Colorado, USA.



Retinoic acid (RA), produced by intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) and dendritic cells (DCs) promotes the induction of regulatory T cells (Tregs) and decreases the induction of T-helper (Th)17 cells.


We studied the roles of RA in mice that overproduce tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and develop chronic ileitis (TNF_ARE mice). We assessed the frequency and function of CD103+ DCs, Th17 cells, and Tregs by flow cytometry, and we measured expression of cytokines and retinaldehyde dehydrogenase (RALDH) enzymes in ileum samples, DCs, and IECs by real-time polymerase chain reaction. We quantified RA by electrochemical analysis and examined the effect of RA supplementation on TNF-induced ileitis using histologic, coculture, and suppression assays and flow cytometry.


Numbers of CD103+ DCs decreased in the inflamed ilea of mice with chronic disease; RA synthetic machinery (RALDH1,2) was down-regulated. Nevertheless, the proportion of CD4+, CD25+, FoxP3+ Tregs increased, indicating an alternate source for RA. IECs responded to reduced levels of RA by up-regulating RALDH3 in vivo and in vitro. Net tissue levels of RA remained lower in TNF+ARE than wild-type mice, indicating that epithelial up-regulation of RALDH3 could not maintain adequate concentrations of RA, probably because of loss of IEC mass. RA supplementation significantly attenuated disease by increasing the number and function of CD103+ DCs and Tregs and reducing Th17 cells.


Reduced levels of RA appear to induce IECs to up-regulate synthesis of RA. RA supplementation attenuates ileitis through its effects on CD103+ DCs, Tregs, and Th17 cells. RA supplementation might offer therapeutic benefit in Crohn's disease.

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