Journal of Gastroenterology

, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 215–226 | Cite as

T-lymphocyte-derived enkephalins reduce Th1/Th17 colitis and associated pain in mice

  • Lilian Basso
  • Laure Garnier
  • Arnaud Bessac
  • Jérôme Boué
  • Catherine Blanpied
  • Nicolas Cenac
  • Sophie Laffont
  • Gilles DietrichEmail author
Original Article—Alimentary Tract



Endogenous opioids, including enkephalins, are fundamental regulators of pain. In inflammatory conditions, the local release of opioids by leukocytes at the inflammatory site inhibits nociceptor firing, thereby inducing analgesia. Accordingly, in chronic intestinal Th1/Th17-associated inflammation, enkephalins released by colitogenic CD4+ T lymphocytes relieve inflammation-induced visceral pain. The present study aims to investigate whether mucosal T-cell-derived enkephalins also exhibit a potent anti-inflammatory activity as described for exogenous opioid drugs in Th1/Th17-associated colitis.


The anti-inflammatory effects of endogenous opioids were investigated in both Th1/Th17-associated (transfer of CD4+CD45RBhigh T lymphocytes) and Th2-associated (oxazolone) colitis models in mice. Inflammation-induced colonic damage and CD4+ T cell subsets were compared in mice treated or not treated with naloxone methiodide, a peripheral antagonist of opioid receptors. The anti-inflammatory activity of T-cell-derived enkephalins was further estimated by comparison of colitis severity in immunodeficient mice into which naïve CD4+CD45RBhigh T lymphocytes originating from wild-type or enkephalin-knockout mice had been transferred.


Peripheral opioid receptor blockade increases the severity of Th1/Th17-induced colitis and attenuates Th2 oxazolone colitis. The opposite effects of naloxone methiodide treatment in these two models of intestinal inflammation are dependent on the potency of endogenous opioids to promote a Th2-type immune response. Accordingly, the transfer of enkephalin-deficient CD4+CD45RBhigh T lymphocytes into immunodeficient mice exacerbates inflammation-induced colonic injury.


Endogenous opioids, including T-cell-derived enkephalins, promote a Th2-type immune response, which, depending on the context, may either attenuate (Th1/Th17-associated) or aggravate (Th2-associated) intestinal inflammation.


Intestinal inflammation Enkephalins T lymphocytes 



The authors thank the ANEXPLO (UMR 006) animal care facility (Y. Barreira and S. Appolinaire), Aninfimip, an EquipEx (Equipement d’Excellence) supported by the French government through the Investments for the Future program (ANR-11-EQPX-0003), and the U1043 flow cytometry facility (F. L’Faqihi-Olive and V. Duplan-Eche). This work was supported by the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse III, and the Association François Aupetit.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

535_2017_1341_MOESM1_ESM.tif (272 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (TIFF 271 kb)


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Copyright information

© Japanese Society of Gastroenterology 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lilian Basso
    • 1
  • Laure Garnier
    • 2
  • Arnaud Bessac
    • 1
  • Jérôme Boué
    • 1
  • Catherine Blanpied
    • 1
  • Nicolas Cenac
    • 1
  • Sophie Laffont
    • 2
  • Gilles Dietrich
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Institut de Recherche en Santé Digestive (IRSD), Université de Toulouse, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM), Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire de Toulouse (ENVT), Université Paul Sabatier (UPS)ToulouseFrance
  2. 2.Centre de Physiopathologie Toulouse-Purpan (CPTP), Université de Toulouse, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM), Université Paul Sabatier (UPS)ToulouseFrance

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