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Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2018 Nov 1;315(5):C722-C733. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00216.2018. Epub 2018 Aug 15.

Epigenetic modification of intestinal smooth muscle cell phenotype during proliferation.

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Gastrointestinal Diseases Research Unit and Queen's University , Kingston, Ontario , Canada.


Inflammation causes proliferation of intestinal smooth muscle cells (ISMC), contributing to a thickened intestinal wall and to stricture formation in Crohn's disease. Proliferation of ISMC in vitro and in vivo caused decreased expression of marker proteins, but the underlying cause is unclear. Since epigenetic change is important in other systems, we used immunocytochemistry, immunoblotting, and quantitative PCR to examine epigenetic modification in cell lines from rat colon at low passage or after extended growth to evaluate phenotype. Exposure to the histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor trichostatin A or the DNA methyltransferase inhibitor 5-azacytidine reversed the characteristic loss of phenotypic markers among high-passage cell lines of ISMC. Expression of smooth muscle actin and smooth muscle protein 22, as well as functional expression of the neurotrophin glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor, was markedly increased. Increased expression of muscarinic receptor 3 and myosin light chain kinase was correlated with an upregulated response to cholinergic stimulation. In human ISMC (hISMC) lines from the terminal ileum, phenotype was similarly affected by extended proliferation. However, in hISMC from resected Crohn's strictures, we observed a significantly reduced contractile phenotype compared with patient-matched intrinsic controls that was associated with increased patient-specific expression of DNA methyltransferase 1, HDAC2, and HDAC5. Therefore, protracted growth causes epigenetic alterations that account for an altered phenotype of ISMC. A similar process may promote stricture formation in Crohn's disease, where the potential for halting progression, or even reversal, of disease through control of phenotypic modulation may become a novel treatment option.


Crohn’s disease; epigenetic regulation; human; intestinal smooth muscle; phenotype

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