Role of the hedgehog signalling pathway in inflammatory bowel disease
Lees, Charles William
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Introduction. The inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC), are common in Western Europe (200-400 cases /100,000) and associated with substantial morbidity, although mortality is now low. There is presently a great unmet need for novel therapeutics in IBD as present agents are limited by lack of efficacy, toxicity and poor patient acceptance. Recent findings from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have characterised the genetic architecture of CD and UC. Defects in innate and adaptive immunity have been clearly established, and substantial novel insights into disease pathogenesis have been gained. Over 30 genes / loci are now associated with CD; a number of these, along with a few specific loci, are also associated with UC. The hedgehog (HH) signalling pathway is critical to gastrointestinal development and plays key roles in intestinal and immune homeostasis. Furthermore, in addition to well described roles in tumorigenesis, it is evident that recapitulation of embryonic HH signals play critical roles in response to acute and chronic inflammatory challenge in diverse tissues. Aims. The main aims of the work presented in this thesis were to characterise the expression of key HH signalling components in the healthy and inflamed human intestine, establish whether germline variation in HH genes is associated with IBD and describe the in vitro responses of intestinal epithelial cells to pathogen associated molecular patterns. The WNT pathway, antagonised by HH in the intestine, and two HH target genes (NKX2.3 and CCL20) were also analysed for evidence of association with IBD. Methods. Expression of HH and WNT signalling components was described by immunohistochemistry and microarray analysis in healthy controls (HC), CD, UC, and non- IBD inflamed terminal ileal and colonic samples. Gene-wide haplotype-tagging studies were performed for GLI1 in Scottish, English and Swedish CD and UC, and Scottish early-onset colo-rectal cancer, IHH in Scottish IBD, NKX2.3 in Scottish and UK IBD, and CCL20 in Scottish, Swedish and Japanese IBD. Evidence for association of all HH (n=13) and WNT (n=27) signalling genes in CD was established by analysis of UK GWAS data and metaanalysis from UK, French/Belgium and N American studies. The effect of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and muramyl dipeptide (MDP) on HH signalling was assessed in colonic epithelial cells (SW480). The effect of HH pathway agonists and antagonists on NFκB activity and cytokine expression was analysed in SW480 cells and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (HC and IBD patients) in vitro. Results. The expression of HH pathway ligand is present in the intestinal epithelium and the pathway response network in the lamina propria demonstrating the paracrine nature of HH signalling in the intestine. Immunohistochemical studies and microarray analysis demonstrates that HH pathway activity is decreased in all forms of colonic inflammation studied in man. Variation in Glioma-associated oncogene homolog 1 (GLI1), a key HH transcription factor located at 12q13 (IBD2), was associated with IBD (p<0.0001), UC (p<0.0001) and to a lesser extent CD (p=0.03) in Scotland, a finding replicated in English IBD and UC. This association was attributed to a non-synonymous SNP (rs2228226C→G) with pools odds ratio of 1.194 in meta-analysis of over 5000 individuals from Scotland, England and Sweden (p=0.0002). There was association of this SNP with early-onset colorectal cancer, but of borderline significance (p=0.05). The variant protein (Q1100E) is 50% less active than wild-type protein in vitro. IHH was not associated with CD or UC. Preliminary evidence was produced for association at SUFU (10q24; p=0.005), a GLI1- binding protein, and at the WNT3 / WNT9B locus (17q21; p=0.0005). MDP stimulation of colonic epithelial cells decreased HH pathway activity. Exogenous HH increased expression of CCL20. CCL20 promoter polymorphisms were associated with UC in Japanese patients (p=0.018) but not in Scotland or Sweden. NKX2.3 was associated with IBD in Scotland (UC>CD), but there was insufficient power for fine-mapping of causative variants. Conclusions. Multiple lines of evidence presented here demonstrate that the HH signalling pathway is involved in IBD pathogenesis. In key complementary in vivo studies (conceived by CWL; conducted in collaboration with the Gumucio lab in Ann Arbor) we have demonstrated that Gli1+/- mice develop early, severe colitis with high mortality in response to acute inflammatory challenge. Furthermore, lamina propria antigen presenting cells are identified as the key HH target cells. With HH agonists and antagonists in extensive preclinical and early clinical testing, these studies have real potential to translate into novel therapeutics for patients with IBD.