, Volume 57, Issue 8, pp 2022-2030
Date: 31 Mar 2012

Intestinal Epithelial Cells with Impaired Autophagy Lose Their Adhesive Capacity in the Presence of TNF-α

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Background and Objectives

Genome-wide association studies have revealed a link between autophagy-related (ATG) genes and susceptibility to Crohn’s disease. This suggests underlying involvement of autophagy impairment in the pathogenesis of Crohn’s disease. This study was performed to investigate the pathophysiological importance of autophagy impairment in intestinal epithelial cells exposed to TNF-α.


Human colonic epithelial cells (HT-29) and rat small intestinal epithelial cells (IEC-18) were used. Formation of phosphatidylethanolamine-conjugated microtubule-associated protein light chain 3 (LC3-II) was monitored as a marker of autophagy. Autophagy was inhibited using 3-methyladenine or short interfering RNA targeting ATG5 and ATG16L1.


TNF-α treatment elicited a significant dose-dependent increase in LC3-II protein levels, thus autophagy is induced in the presence of TNF-α. Combined autophagy inhibition and TNF-α treatment induced a marked increase in the number of detached cells and a decrease in activated integrin β1 protein levels. Trypan blue staining indicated 70–80 % of the detached cells were alive, suggesting that these cells became detached not because they were killed but because of dysfunction of cellular adhesion.


This is the first study indicating that intestinal epithelial cells with impaired autophagy lose their adhesive capacity in the presence of TNF-α. These observations indicate that impairment of autophagy leads to disruption of the intestinal epithelial cell layers in TNF-α-rich environments.