Histone H3K9 methylation regulates chronic stress and IL-6-induced colon epithelial permeability and visceral pain

John W Wiley, Ye Zong, Gen Zheng, Shengtao Zhu, Shuangsong Hong
Neurogastroenterology and Motility: the Official Journal of the European Gastrointestinal Motility Society 2020 August 2, : e13941

BACKGROUND: Chronic stress is associated with activation of the HPA axis, elevation in pro-inflammatory cytokines, decrease in intestinal epithelial cell tight junction (TJ) proteins, and enhanced visceral pain. It is unknown whether epigenetic regulatory pathways play a role in chronic stress-induced intestinal barrier dysfunction and visceral hyperalgesia.

METHODS: Young adult male rats were subjected to water avoidance stress ± H3K9 methylation inhibitors or siRNAs. Visceral pain response was assessed. Differentiated Caco-2/BBE cells and human colonoids were treated with cortisol or IL-6 ± antagonists. Expression of TJ, IL-6, and H3K9 methylation status at gene promoters was measured. Transepithelial electrical resistance and FITC-dextran permeability were evaluated.

KEY RESULTS: Chronic stress induced IL-6 up-regulation prior to a decrease in TJ proteins in the rat colon. The IL-6 level inversely correlated with occludin expression. Treatment with IL-6 decreased occludin and induced visceral hyperalgesia. Chronic stress and IL-6 increased H3K9 methylation and decreased transcriptional GR binding to the occludin gene promoter, leading to down-regulation of protein expression and increase in paracellular permeability. Intrarectal administration of a H3K9 methylation antagonist prevented chronic stress-induced visceral hyperalgesia in the rat. In a human colonoid model, cortisol decreased occludin expression, which was prevented by the GR antagonist RU486, and IL-6 increased H3K9 methylation and decreased TJ protein levels, which were prevented by inhibitors of H3K9 methylation.

CONCLUSIONS & INFERENCES: Our findings support a novel role for methylation of the repressive histone H3K9 to regulate chronic stress, pro-inflammatory cytokine-mediated reduction in colon TJ protein levels, and increase in paracellular permeability and visceral hyperalgesia.

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