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Blood. 2012 Jul 5;120(1):223-31. doi: 10.1182/blood-2011-12-401166. Epub 2012 Apr 24.

Graft-versus-host disease disrupts intestinal microbial ecology by inhibiting Paneth cell production of α-defensins.

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Department of Medicine and Biosystemic Science, Kyushu University Graduate School of Medical Science, Fukuoka, Japan.

Erratum in

  • Blood. 2014 Aug 14;124(7):1201.


Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (SCT) is a curative therapy for various hematologic disorders. Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and infections are the major complications of SCT, and their close relationship has been suggested. In this study, we evaluated a link between 2 complications in mouse models. The intestinal microbial communities are actively regulated by Paneth cells through their secretion of antimicrobial peptides, α-defensins. We discovered that Paneth cells are targeted by GVHD, resulting in marked reduction in the expression of α-defensins, which selectively kill noncommensals, while preserving commensals. Molecular profiling of intestinal microbial communities showed loss of physiologic diversity among the microflora and the overwhelming expansion of otherwise rare bacteria Escherichia coli, which caused septicemia. These changes occurred only in mice with GVHD, independently on conditioning-induced intestinal injury, and there was a significant correlation between alteration in the intestinal microbiota and GVHD severity. Oral administration of polymyxin B inhibited outgrowth of E coli and ameliorated GVHD. These results reveal the novel mechanism responsible for shift in the gut flora from commensals toward the widespread prevalence of pathogens and the previously unrecognized association between GVHD and infection after allogeneic SCT.

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