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Gastroenterology. 2015 Sep;149(3):753-64.e11. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2015.05.004. Epub 2015 May 14.

Exposure to Radiocontrast Agents Induces Pancreatic Inflammation by Activation of Nuclear Factor-κB, Calcium Signaling, and Calcineurin.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Institute of Cellular Therapeutics, Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Department of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Department of Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Electronic address:



Radiocontrast agents are required for radiographic procedures, but these agents can injure tissues by unknown mechanisms. We investigated whether exposure of pancreatic tissues to radiocontrast agents during endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) causes pancreatic inflammation, and studied the effects of these agents on human cell lines and in mice.


We exposed mouse and human acinar cells to the radiocontrast agent iohexol (Omnipaque; GE Healthcare, Princeton, NJ) and measured intracellular release of Ca(2+), calcineurin activation (using a luciferase reporter), activation of nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB, using a luciferase reporter), and cell necrosis (via propidium iodide uptake). We infused the radiocontrast agent into the pancreatic ducts of wild-type mice (C57BL/6) to create a mouse model of post-ERCP pancreatitis; some mice were given intraperitoneal injections of the calcineurin inhibitor FK506 before and after infusion of the radiocontrast agent. CnAβ(-/-) mice also were used. This experiment also was performed in mice given infusions of adeno-associated virus 6-NF-κB-luciferase, to assess activation of this transcription factor in vivo.


Incubation of mouse and human acinar cells, but not HEK293 or COS7 cells, with iohexol led to a peak and then plateau in Ca(2+) signaling, along with activation of the transcription factors NF-κB and nuclear factor of activated T cells. Suppressing Ca(2+) signaling or calcineurin with BAPTA, cyclosporine A, or FK506 prevented activation of NF-κB and acinar cell injury. Calcineurin Aβ-deficient mice were protected against induction of pancreatic inflammation by iohexol. The calcineurin inhibitor FK506 prevented contrast-induced activation of NF-κB in pancreata of mice, this was observed by live imaging of mice given infusions of adeno-associated virus 6-NF-κB-luciferase.


Radiocontrast agents cause pancreatic inflammation in mice, via activation of NF-κB, Ca(2+) signaling, and calcineurin. Calcineurin inhibitors might be developed to prevent post-ERCP pancreatitis in patients.


Calcineurin; Calcium Signaling; PEP; Pancreatitis Pathogenesis

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