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Gastroenterology. 2017 Oct;153(4):948-960.e3. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.06.051. Epub 2017 Jul 13.

Vasoactive Intestinal Polypeptide and Mast Cells Regulate Increased Passage of Colonic Bacteria in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

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Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden; Department of Gastroenterology, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden.
Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden.
Laboratory of Translational Mucosal Immunology, Digestive Diseases Research Unit, Vall d'Hebron Institut de Recerca, Hospital Universitari Vall d'Hebron, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain.
G Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress & Resilience, Division of Digestive Diseases, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, California.
Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden. Electronic address:



Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is associated with intestinal dysbiosis and symptoms of IBS develop following gastroenteritis. We aimed to study the passage of live bacteria through the colonic epithelium, and determine the role of mast cells (MCs) and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) in barrier regulation in IBS and healthy individuals.


Colon biopsies from 32 women with IBS and 15 age-matched healthy women (controls) were mounted in Ussing chambers; we measured numbers of fluorescently labeled Escherichia coli HS and Salmonella typhimurium that passed through from the mucosal side to the serosal side of the tissue. Some biopsies were exposed to agents that block the VIP receptors (VPAC1 and VPAC2) or MCs. Levels of VIP and tryptase were measured in plasma and biopsy lysates. Number of MCs and MCs that express VIP or VIP receptors were quantified by immunofluorescence. Biopsies from an additional 5 patients with IBS and 4 controls were mounted in chambers and Salmonella were added; we studied passage routes through the epithelium by transmission electron microscopy and expression of tight junctions by confocal microscopy.


In colon biopsies from patients with IBS, larger numbers of E coli HS and S typhimurium passed through the epithelium than in biopsies from controls (P < .0005). In transmission electron microscopy analyses, bacteria were found to cross the epithelium via only the transcellular route. Bacterial passage was reduced in biopsies from patients with IBS and controls after addition of antibodies against VPACs or ketotifen, which inhibits MCs. Plasma samples from patients with IBS had higher levels of VIP than plasma samples from controls. Biopsies from patients with IBS had higher levels of tryptase, larger numbers of MCs, and a higher percentage of MCs that express VPAC1 than biopsies from controls. In biopsies from patients with IBS, addition of Salmonella significantly reduced levels of occludin; subsequent addition of ketotifen significantly reversed this effect.


We found that colonic epithelium tissues from patients with IBS have increased translocation of commensal and pathogenic live bacteria compared with controls. The mechanisms of increased translocation include MCs and VIP.


Bacteria; Inflammation; Intestinal Permeability; Ketotifen

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