Rho-A prenylation and signaling link epithelial homeostasis to intestinal inflammation

Rocio Lopez-Posadas, Christoph Becker, Claudia Gunther, Stefan Tenzer, Kerstin Amann, Ulrike Billmeier, Raja Atreya, Gionata Fiorino, Stefania Vetrano, Silvio Danese, Arif B. Ekici, Stefan Wirtz, Veronika Thonn, Alastair Watson, Cord Brakebusch, Martin Bergo, Marcus Neurath, Imke Atreya

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Although defects in intestinal barrier function are discussed as a key pathogenic factor in patients with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), the molecular pathways driving disease-specific alterations of intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) are largely unknown. Here, we performed a novel approach to characterize the transcriptome of IECs from IBD patients using a genome wide approach. We observed disease-specific alterations in IECs with markedly impaired Rho-A signaling in active IBD patients. Localization of epithelial Rho-A was shifted to the cytosol in IBD where Rho-A activation was suppressed due to reduced expression of the Rho-A prenylation enzyme GGTase-I. The functional relevance of this pathway was highlighted by studies in mice with conditional gene targeting in which deletion of RhoA or GGTase-I in IECs caused spontaneous chronic intestinal inflammation with accumulation of granulocytes and CD4+ T cells. This phenotype was associated with cytoskeleton rearrangement and aberrant cell shedding ultimately leading to loss of epithelial integrity and subsequent inflammation. These findings uncover deficient prenylation of Rho-A as a key player in the pathogenesis of IBD. As therapeutic triggering of Rho-A signaling suppressed intestinal inflammation in mice with GGTase-I deficient IECs, our findings open new avenues for treatment of epithelial injury and mucosal inflammation in IBD patients.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)611-626
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Clinical Investigation
Issue number2
Early online date11 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


  • prenylation
  • intestine
  • barrier

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