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Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity
Volume 2 (2009), Issue 5, Pages 297-306

Tumor Necrosis Factor-α and Apoptosis Signal-Regulating Kinase 1 Control Reactive Oxygen Species Release, Mitochondrial Autophagy and C-Jun N-Terminal Kinase/P38 Phosphorylation During Necrotizing Enterocolitis

Received 9 July 2009; Revised 16 July 2009; Accepted 17 July 2009

Copyright © 2009 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Background: Oxidative stress and inflammation may contribute to the disruption of the protective gut barrier through various mechanisms; mitochondrial dysfunction resulting from inflammatory and oxidative injury may potentially be a significant source of apoptosis during necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). Tumor necrosis factor (TNF)α is thought to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) and activate the apoptosis signal-regulating kinase 1 (ASK1)-c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK)/p38 pathway. Hence, the focus of our study was to examine the effects of TNFα/ROs on mitochondrial function, ASK1-JNK/p38 cascade activation in intestinal epithelial cells during NEC.

Results: We found (a) abundant tissue TNFα and ASK1 expression throughout all layers of the intestine in neonates with NEC, suggesting that TNFα/ASK1 may be a potential source (indicators) of intestinal injury in neonates with NEC; (b) TNFα-induced rapid and transient activation of JNK/p38 apoptotic signaling in all cell lines suggests that this may be an important molecular characteristic of NEC; (c) TNFα-induced rapid and transient ROs production in RIe-1 cells indicates that mitochondria are the predominant source of ROS, demonstrated by significantly attenuated response in mitochondrial DNA-depleted (RIE-1-ρ°) intestinal epithelial cells; (d) further studies with mitochondria-targeted antioxidant PBN supported our hypothesis that effective mitochondrial ROS trapping is protective against TNFα/ROs-induced intestinal epithelial cell injury; (e) TNFα induces significant mitochondrial dysfunction in intestinal epithelial cells, resulting in increased production of mtROS, drop in mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP) and decreased oxygen consumption; (f) although the significance of mitochondrial autophagy in NEC has not been unequivocally shown, our studies provide a strong preliminary indication that TNFα/ROs-induced mitochondrial autophagy may play a role in NeC, and this process is a late phenomenon.

Methods: Paraffin-embedded intestinal sections from neonates with NEC and non-inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract undergoing bowel resections were analyzed for TNFα and ASK1 expression. Rat (RIE-1) and mitochondrial DNA-depleted (RIE-1-ρ°) intestinal epithelial cells were used to determine the effects of TNFα on mitochondrial function.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that TNFα induces significant mitochondrial dysfunction and activation of mitochondrial apoptotic responses, leading to intestinal epithelial cell apoptosis during NeC. Therapies directed against mitochondria/ROS may provide important therapeutic options, as well as ameliorate intestinal epithelial cell apoptosis during NeC.